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Speech by the Taoiseach at the Irish Memorial, Philadelphia, Sunday12 March 2017




Ladies and Gentlemen,

The history of Ireland's diaspora is long and illustrious, marked by great tragedy but also great achievement.  

The tragic origins of the mass emigration at the heart of that story are nowhere more vividly portrayed than here at Philadelphia's powerful Irish memorial.   

Sons and daughters of Ireland - with little hope and few possessions - embarked on a perilous journey to these shores in search of a better life.  

For many, that journey ended before they arrived here.  For the lucky ones, America provided a new hope - a new beginning.  The start of something.

More than 170 years since the worst of those times, we feel that connection with our ancestors and what they endured.  It is a part of what - and who - we are.

From that time onwards, the Irish became a part of the fabric of society and of the economy here.  

Those emigrants and their descendants also became part of a wider global Irish family that held strongly to their identity and continued to play a part in the unfolding of history back in Ireland.

As the size of that diaspora has grown, it has given Ireland a reach and a voice around the world that is the envy of many other nations.

Our diaspora has also helped to inform and broaden our views - keeping Ireland open to the world.

Last year we joined with you as we commemorated the Centenary of the Easter rising.  We learned a lot about the role that was played by the Irish diaspora in the events of that time.  

We also learned much about the Ireland of today.  We shared a deep pride in our country, our history, our culture, our people.

We remembered a time of conflict with our neighbour and we did so in a spirit of respect and reconciliation.

It allowed us to re-affirm those values that we continue to hold dear in Ireland:  freedom and democracy, openness, tolerance, community, solidarity and respect for others.  These are values which we will actively foster into the future in respect of all our relationships.

They are vital to us as a globalised open economy that is deeply committed to our EU membership and to international trade.

In more recent times, we had thought that the days of emigration out of economic necessity had been left behind us.  But the economic crash of 2008 once again deprived our people and particularly our young people of the jobs and opportunities at home that they deserve.

I am glad to say that our economic recovery is now firmly established.  The strength of the recovery is perhaps most clearly evident in the labour market. More than 2 million people are now in work – the highest level since 2008. 

We are once again creating opportunities for our young people.

This recovery is a testament to the determination, resilience and creativity of the Irish people - both at home and abroad.

In the bleakest of times, we were deeply fortunate to be able to call upon the assistance of our Global Irish Network to help repair Ireland's international reputation which had been so badly damaged - an essential part of our recovery.

Throughout my career, I have been deeply aware of the importance and the strength of our Global family.  

There are so many reasons why it is important for Government to embrace our diaspora - from supporting those who are vulnerable, to creating cultural connections as well as creating opportunities for investment and jobs.

And that is why, back in 2014, I was delighted to create for the first time the position of Minister for Diaspora Affairs.  [We are fortunate to have here today the current holder of that office - Minister of State, Joe McHugh].

The importance to us of our Global Irish family was copper-fastened with the publication of Ireland's Diaspora Policy in 2015.

This Government policy brings together a broad range of initiatives and networks designed to nurture and develop this unique and important relationship.  

A key theme that emerged from submissions received during the development of Ireland's Diaspora Policy was the importance of the issue of voting rights to many Irish citizens abroad.  

Many members of the diaspora felt it would allow them to deepen their engagement with Ireland and to play a more active role in Irish society.

This is something with which I absolutely agree.

That is why I am delighted to be announcing today that the Irish Government has decided that Irish citizens resident outside the State, including in Northern Ireland, should be allowed to vote in Irish presidential elections.

This is in line with the recommendations made by our Convention on the Constitution in their fifth report.

This proposal will, of course, require the approval of the Irish people in a referendum to amend the Constitution.

If the referendum is passed, it will also involve significant work to determine new eligibility rules, to draw up legislation and to implement a new electoral register and new voting procedures for all of our citizens.

It is appropriate that this announcement is being made here in Philadelphia, where the Irish have made such a mark over the centuries.

There is no more fitting time or place, as we look forward to our worldwide celebration of St. Patrick's Day and of all that is Irish.

This Decision by the Government is a clear recognition of the importance that Ireland attaches to her citizens, wherever they may be.  

You are part of who we are as a people, what we have done and where we have gone in the world.  

We will make that connection ever stronger for the future.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Thank you.


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