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    Should we have a “Book of Irish connections”?

    By Noreen Bowden | January 4, 2011

    The Irish government has announced that the “Certificate of Irish Heritage” announced early last year, will get underway this month. Fexco, a Kerry-based company that also processes VAT refunds, has won the contract to provide the certificates. The initiative, which originated in the strategic review of US-Irish relations a couple of years ago, is aimed at providing concrete affirmation of Irish heritage to those ineligible for citizenship. There will be a small fee for the certificates; news reports last year suggested that certificate holders could get tourism-related discounts, but this aspect may have been dropped as recent reports do not mention this.

    I think the idea is an interesting one, and will no doubt find popularity among some of the diaspora, but I’m not convinced such a certificate is the most meaningful way of allowing those of Irish heritage to connect with Ireland.

    The problem with the certificate doesn’t really carry all that much meaning in itself: all it does is confirm that one has Irish relations, and allow you to emblazon that on a wall in some distant locale.

    The programme seems vaguely reminiscent of India’s “Person of Indian Origin” status, but the differences between them highlight the lost opportunities of the Irish initiative. A PIO card is available to non-Indian citizens who have at any time held Indian passports, or have parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents who were born and resident in India, or a spouse of such a person. Although they have no political rights, PIO cardholders are entitled to a number of benefits, including:

    • visa-free travel
    • exemption from registration requirements for stays shorter than 6 months
    • parity with non-resident Indians in educational and business matters.

    Some of these benefits might be congruent with offers that Ireland could make to its wider diaspora. (For example, the Ireland Homecoming Study Programme could be made available to Certificate holders). If we are interested in truly valuing our diaspora, and giving back concrete benefits to them, it would make sense to explore such benefits. At the same time, however, such preferential treatment would not be unproblematic: should we not, for example, incorporate our so-called “affiliate diaspora” into such programmes – those people around the world who may have studied, worked, and/or lived in Ireland but who have no ancestral connections? Surely such people also deserve recognition for their own work as “informal ambassadors”. The Farmleigh Conference gave some mention of this affiliate diaspora, but it’s an area that is in need of development.

    An even better model for Ireland to look at would be “The Book of Scottish Connections“, which was developed in 2005 to fit “the needs of tomorrow’s Scotland”, as The Deputy Public Service Reform Minister Tavish Scott described it at the time. He called it “an exciting opportunity for ex-pats, those with Scottish connections and others wanting to keep family records in Scotland up-to-date.”

    And it is an exciting initiative. While here in Ireland we have the registry of Foreign Births, the Book of Scottish Connections goes much further, allowing for those with Scottish-born parents, grandparents, or parents or grandparents with an entry in the BSCĀ  to have their births, marriages, civil partnerships or deaths registered. Such a measure would be a highly valuable record for generations to come. And as the ongoing campaign for the recording of Irish deaths abroad has shown, there is a need for record-keeping to keep up with the global nature of Irish life today.

    So while the certificate of Irishness is a fine idea for a keepsake, it’s still worth investigating a more meaningful way of recording Irish connections that will benefit generations to come while stressing the relationship-based nature of the Irish diaspora’s connection with Ireland. We shouldn’t just send out these certificates as a sentimental document to our overseas relations: we should be viewing all information about these relationships as something to value and maintain for generations to come.

    Topics: Latest News | 3 Comments »

    3 Responses to “Should we have a “Book of Irish connections”?”

    1. eddie stack Says:
      January 4th, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      None of my Irish American friends are interested in the Certificate of Irish Heritage. They see it as a ruse to raise $$ and even a bit insulting. I think the Irish Gov and their advisers seriously underestimate the intelligence of the I-As. They see them as a cash cow, a soft touch, and think they’re still in The Quiet Man epoch. The Scottish and the Indian projects are much more wholesome, mature and have substance.

      best wishes for 2011, appreciate the tweets + your good work.


    2. Noreen Bowden Says:
      January 7th, 2011 at 5:45 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Eddie! I always appreciate your perspective as well!

      I agree with you about the underestimation of the intelligence of Irish-Americans, and it’s something we need to get over here in Ireland. It’s not helpful to us at all, and we should definitely be aiming at a relationship that addresses the diaspora at a more substantial level. I like to think it will happen someday. I do think that the Irish government is looking to other countries as models so perhaps things will change in time…

    3. Certificate of Irish Heritage coming… soon? | – about Irish emigration and the diaspora Says:
      May 10th, 2011 at 9:59 am

      […] I’ve said before that I think the Certificate is a positive step, but that I’d prefer to see something like the “Book of Scottish Connections”, which would be a more interactive way of developing the relationship between Ireland and the Irish abroad. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this develops. […]