THE IRISH abroad must be given a greater role in affairs at home rather than being “simply exploited”, the Oireachtas committee on Foreign Affairs has heard.
Denis Staunton, deputy editor of The Irish Times, told the committee on Wednesday that the Government must do more than identify the “wealthiest and most obviously useful” Irish people living elsewhere.
Suggesting that the Irish abroad should be allowed to vote in elections at home, Mr Staunton said the diaspora is “an invaluable resource throughout the world, but one that should be cultivated rather than simply exploited”.
“If you spend any time with the Irish abroad you will see very quickly that they know a great deal more about us than we do about them,” he added.
“And yet most of our efforts to engage them are focused on pumping out ever more information about us and letting them know what they can do to help us.”
Responding to Mr Staunton, Senator David Norris said that the Irish abroad have “asked to get involved in Ireland and we have spurned them”.
Ministers have previously insisted that the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, which gives financial grants to organisations working with Irish people outside Ireland, demonstrates its commitment to protecting the welfare of the international Irish community.
But the Government has come under pressure to do more to engage with the Diaspora.
Last week Fianna Fáil released proposals for a reformed Seanad that would give Irish passport-holders around the world a say in electing senators.
The issue of voting rights was highlighted last year in the build-up to a meeting of the Constitutional Convention dedicated to the subject.
Ireland is one of just four of the EU’s 28 member states that does not let its citizens take part in parliamentary elections from abroad.
Scores of people have told The Irish Post they felt ignored the minute they left home because of their inability to vote at home.
Others have been critical of initiatives like the Gathering, infamously termed a “shakedown” of the diaspora by actor Gabriel Byrne.
The Tánaiste admitted in November that that the Government is considering changing the way it engages with the Diaspora and is currently reviewing its policies.
The Irish Post understands that the Department of Foreign Affairs has commissioned University College Dublin to complete a “comprehensive study” of the Emigrant Support Programme, which will give £5.4million to Irish organisations in Britain this year.
The study, termed a “future needs analysis”, is expected to include a public consultation with the Irish abroad in the coming months.