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The Global Irish Civic Forum 2023
The Global Irish Civic Forum is an initiative of the Irish Government developed to engage with the Irish diaspora from around the world. The forum helps to promote discussions around issues of concern and interest to the global Irish community while strengthening ties between Ireland and the diaspora.
The forum is a key component of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs' commitment to working with the Irish abroad and engaging the diaspora under the five pillars set out in their diaspora strategy: Our People, Our Values, Our Prosperity, Our Culture and Our Influence.
Le Chéile Arís: Together Again
The third Global Irish Civic Forum was held at Dublin Castle on 20-21 April 2023. Organisations working with Irish diaspora communities gathered to share best practices and promote their work building economic, cultural, and social connections between diaspora communities, their host countries, and Ireland.
The forum theme was " Le Chéile Arís - Together Again", reflecting the shared mission of groups supporting the Irish community around the world. It was an inspiring gathering for all, particularly as it followed the disruption of the global pandemic, and it has been a full six years since the last forum.
The conference was a mixture of plenary discussions and workshops, with speakers primarily from Irish diaspora organisations, the Irish Government, business leaders and artists. Every continent was represented at the forum, helping to narrate a diverse history of migration in the Irish diaspora and the communities they have built.
Irish in Britain's CEO, Brian Dalton, spoke on the opening panel entitled 'Our People'. He cited our newly published report on the 2021 census in England and Wales, describing the community as "diverse, plural, evolving, and it looks very different from what it looked like 25 years ago".
Brian followed by saying we need to recognise and respond to the changing profile of the diaspora, as new immigrants tend to be highly educated, internationalist, European and mobile.
A persistent issue referenced by many panellists was reaching and engaging the diaspora's younger generations. Conversations explored the values and interests of younger Irish communities and the social networks, services and practical engagements that have been successful. Brian said
"It is the responsibility of organisations like ours [Irish in Britain] to continue to develop networks to meet these needs of young people".
Brian referenced our Ceannairí Nua/New Leaders programme, a tailored course providing training, tools and information to bring new skills and experiences to charities and Irish community organisation voluntary sector. This programme has successfully trained over 40 young trustees from the community.
Another subject theme discussed by panellists was the question of votes for Irish citizens abroad. Hilary Beirne, Chairman of the NYC St Patrick's Day Foundation, offered measured and strong arguments for supporting representation in the Seanad for the Irish diaspora.
When the terms of a referendum are published, we will examine and consult with our membership and how we might facilitate sharing Irish voices from Britain.
The forum was a remarkable showcase of the Irish community's resilience, proving how vital Irish organisations are in supporting the diaspora. The presence of many of our members and other organisations from Britain was strong, representing the largest Irish diaspora community outside of Ireland. It was a compelling testament to the impact and value of community organisations.
Speakers discussed issues centred around the five pillars of the diaspora policy, covering diversity and representation, promoting Irish arts and culture, and creating business links between Ireland and other parts of the world.
Strong voices for change were heard throughout the forum from advocates. Lorraine Maher, CEO of IamIrish, and Pauline Melvin-Anderson OBE, Chair of the Traveller Movement, were panellists during the 'Our Values' discussion and spoke to the value of inclusivity, diversity and belonging amongst the Irish diaspora. They also highlighted the need to continue creating spaces that welcome all people within the Irish community.
Developing Culture Globally
The event was a reminder of the global nature of the Irish diaspora community. Despite being scattered all around the world, members of this 'global family' share a common heritage and a deep bond that transcends borders and distance.
One of the forum's key themes was the growing influence of Irish culture globally. The diaspora has played a significant role in spreading Irish culture and traditions. Delegates discussed successful ESP-funded programmes and projects which have captured audiences internationally.
Colm Bairéad, writer and the director of the Academy Award-nominated film An Cailín Ciúin, spoke on the importance of promoting and preserving Irish culture, language and heritage.
Throughout the forum, delegates highlighted an engaged and vibrant diaspora, where multi-generations of Irish people are thriving, and Irish culture is celebrated and adopted by other communities. One participant spoke about new GAA clubs opening around the world, particularly in Cambodia and Uganda, which were vibrant and flourishing with talent.
Welfare Organisations During the Pandemic
The resilience of the Irish community was a prominent theme of the forum.
The final session saw the floor open to the audience in an 'open mic' session. This included several moving testimonies from welfare organisations on the challenges and successes of caring for their community during the pandemic.
Social welfare organisations were on the front line, keeping services running with limited resources, and operating in a crisis context to protect the community's most vulnerable. Many of our members spoke passionately about the solidarity and cooperation between organisations in Britain. John Giltenham, representing the Council of Irish Counties (London) paid tribute to the many groups who worked together, including Irish in Britain, to support their communities.
Shauna Mulligan, Director of Irish Community Services described how many of the local Irish community in South East London assured the centre on the phone that they were 'grand'. But in fact some were so isolated they "would break down in tears because someone actually came to their door to say hello".
William Foote, Centre Director of the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, described how the centre suddenly had to shift cultural activity online and how important it was for people to access music and art during the pandemic. Many delegates also took the time to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs for its emergency funding, which they said 'saved countless lives' during the height of the pandemic.
The third Global Irish Civic Forum was an important opportunity to connect after such a disrupted period and at a time of great change in the diaspora profile. It is only through understanding and acknowledging the diversity of the migrant experience today that effective engagement can be achieved.
There was a deep well of skills and experience evident throughout the forum and it is a reminder for the Irish government that this is a valuable resource that can help deliver the ambitions of the diaspora policy as partners and owners. There is much we can organise for.
Micheál Martin TD
Tánaiste, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minster for Defence.
'The welfare of the Irish abroad, particularly of the most marginalised, remains at the heart of the Government's diaspora policy and we were glad to be able to provide some support to the great effort that went to protecting our people overseas.'