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  • Terry Prone: Diaspora “a weird lot”

    Friday, October 2nd, 2009

    PR maven Terry Prone is not the most astute analyst of diaspora relations.

    Cleverly coining a new phrase, “diasporation”, in response to the recent Global Irish Economic Forum, Ms Prone declares that all attempts to look to the Irish abroad for any wisdom to guide us out of this crisis are doomed to failure.

    The reason? The Irish diaspora are “a weird lot”. Sure there are some Irish millionaire philanthropists who can be reliably counted on to cough up the cash. But the rest of them? No use at all.

    “The rest of the diaspora is a write off and always has been. One of the best histories of the emigrant Irish makes the point that whereas Italians and other Europeans who, through poverty, had to emigrate to the United States always planned to get home as soon as they made a few bob, the Irish concentrated on singing miserable songs filled with homesickness while staying in Detroit or Dakota or downtown Manhattan.”

    Ms Prone seems to forget that Ireland’s economic boom is of rather late vintage. When there was a need for emigrant labour in the 1990s, the Irish did come back – by the hundreds of thousands. What did an Irish person have to return to, in say, 1870?

    And as for remittances, Ms Prone seems to think they are the object of folklore:

    And, while we’ve all heard the stories of envelopes coming to our great-grandparents with the few bob from the emigrant son or daughter allowing the folks at home to put in a toilet instead of visiting the local field, the fact is that a huge proportion of those who left used their emigration to break all ties with folks from home.

    Proving nicely the old adage that eaten bread is soon forgotten, Ms Prone doesn’t seem to realise that millions of pounds in remittances were reaching Irish homes as lately as the 1960s. But then actual facts don’t seem her forte. This comes from the Supporting the Irish Abroad website:

    In 1961 the education budget for Ireland was fourteen million pounds, that year emigrants remittances that could be calculated form official sources came to thirteen and a half million.

    If we owe the Irish emigrants of the past anything – and we do – surely it must begin with remembering their sacrifices and what they gave to the Irish at home.

    But not for Ms Prone, who clearly resents the Irish diaspora for committing the sin of sentimentality while keeping their money in their pockets. They should visit more, she insists – even as Irish-born people realise that it’s cheaper to holiday just about anywhere else. ¬†And perhaps worst of all, they don’t buy the shamrock-themed tat that she tries to help Irish marketers shill.

    As a corrective, here’s what the 2002 report of the government’s Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants has to say:

    We owe much to our emigrants. Many of them helped their families who remained behind through generous remittances sent home from their hard earned incomes. In recent years, the establishment of voluntary funding organisations abroad and the personal generosity of individual Irish people who have achieved success, notably in the US, have led to the investment of large sums of money in Ireland. Moreover, people who returned to Ireland having gained experience abroad, have contributed significantly to the country through learning and innovation. The Task Force acknowledges this debt and recognises the sacrifices made by generations of emigrants to the economic benefit of Ireland.

    Read Ms Prone’s article: Don’t rely on the Diaspora to rescue us