Originally published in The New York Post, 15/03/2008
This St Patrick’s Day, consider: What exactly constitutes an Irishman?
Is it enough to have Irish blood or do you have to be born in Ireland? What about those Irish who live in Brooklyn or Boston, who speak with Cockney or Australian accents?
The Irish who are born in Ireland seem to have forgotten that the other Irish are our footprint around the world. And, for the home country, the global Irish tribe is our biggest asset – and the key to our prosperity going forward.
For years, Irish-Americans sent money back home, invested in Ireland and gave refuge and jobs to successive waves of Irish emigrants who arrived in the US looking to share in the American Dream. Now all that has changed – not because Irish America has changed, but because Ireland has been transformed.
Ireland has become enormously wealthy. We’re no longer emigrating; in fact, it’s the opposite: Ireland is receiving more immigrants than practically any other country in the Western world. The challenge now is to reinvent the relationship between Ireland and the Irish Diaspora.
The next chapter of the Irish story will involve harnessing Irishness and turning our worldwide family into the greatest commercial network the world has ever seen.
Some 3.5 million Irish citizens live outside the country, but the greater Diaspora is considerably bigger – 70 million strong. These are the people who keep the Irish flag flying in the remotest parts of the world, the people who suffered most under our colonial past, who sent money home to Ireland when we hadn’t a bean and who took other destitute Irish into their communities when wave after wave arrived on the docks from Boston to Buenos Aries.
Now Irish around the world have a great opportunity to re-imagine ourselves where the island of Ireland is the mothership and the global Irish Tribe is the nation. This will involve copying the Israeli example of actively, rather than passively – cultivating the relationship between the Diaspora and the ancestral homeland.
Ireland should see itself as the battery where Irish Americans can re-charge their Irishness. We could do this by extending passports to people of Irish descent, offering their children the chance to come on exchange programs and giving them a “sense of place” that links them back to the place from which their ancestors fled. This would then become networking for the nation – a sort of “Facebook” for the Irish tribe, with membership open to all of us who are willing and curious.
By using Ireland as the dynamo, we could transform an emotional and ancestral yearning into a worldwide financial network.
This would complete the historical cycle – with a successful modern Ireland reaching out to the sons and daughters of those who were forced into exile.
As the returning Jews have done in Israel – which extends citizenship to every Jewish person around the world – the “linked in” Irish exiles would inject vibrancy and enthusiasm into both our contemporary and traditional culture while opening up economic opportunities all over the world.
In a globalized world, emigration is no longer a permanent decision. People come and go – spend time in one country, move home, then maybe head out to another country. This is why creating a global network with the homeland at the fulcrum is so attractive.
The time has come to see Ireland in the 21st century as the cradle of a global nation. We should institute a “right of return” policy and extend citizenship to people of Irish descent, beyond the current cut-off point of two generations.
If we do this, globalization could be the golden era of the Irish.
For years, the exiled Irish reminded us of our economic failure. They were traditionally the victims of a failed Ireland; in our globalized future they will be the saviors of a successful Ireland. All we need is the courage to imagine a Greater Ireland that transcends geography, where being Irish is a global brand.