Monday, June 21, 2010

Certificate of Irishness open to 70 million people worldwide

The Irish Times - Monday, June 21, 2010

Paul Cullen of the Irish Times reports:


THE GOVERNMENT has announced plans to introduce a certificate of Irish heritage for up to 70 million people of Irish descent around the world who do not qualify for citizenship.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said at the weekend he had decided to proceed with the initiative, which was first proposed at the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh last year.

The certificates will be issued by a third party agency acting under licence from the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is considering charging a fee for each document issued.

The initiative is intended to be self-financing, according to a department source. But he said it was not designed with the intention of raising significant amounts of revenue.

The price charged for the certificates has yet to be set. The tendering documents state that the level of fees shall be subject to the department’s agreement. They add: “The Department is open to considering proposals that provide for sharing a proportion of the fees received with the Department”.

The exact size of the market for a heritage certificate is not known. But it is anticipated that many descendants of Irish emigrants would wish to buy one to display in their homes or as gifts for their children.

Some speakers at last year’s forum were critical of the disconnection between Ireland and members of the diaspora, particularly those unable to qualify for citizenship by virtue of having a parent or grandparent born in Ireland. The forum also highlighted the role the emigrant network could play in helping Ireland improve its economic fortunes.

Mr Martin said the Government had taken a broad and inclusive approach to defining Ireland’s global community. “The Irish diaspora is not limited to Irish citizens living abroad or to those who have activated citizenship. Instead, it encompasses all those who believe they are of Irish descent and feel a sense of affinity with this country.”

The reach, power and influence of many members of the diaspora can provide Ireland with an important competitive edge, he pointed out.

According to the tender documents, it is not possible to determine the value of the concession: “The Irish diaspora is estimated to consist of 70 million . . . many of whom are proud of their Irish heritage”.

The process of selecting a service provider for a trial one-year period is under way, and the issuing of certificates is expected to start later this year, according to the minister.

Operators are likely to have a background in heritage or genealogy. The department is investigating the possibility that certificate-holders would benefit from discounts while visiting Ireland as tourists.

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