Monday, July 19, 2010

Govt to offer diaspora ‘certificate of Irishness’


Posted on 30 June 2010

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin has revealed plans to introduce a certificate of Irishness for the diaspora.

The Irish Government has unveiled plans to launch a certificate of Irishness for those of Irish heritage who do not qualify for full citizenship.

But the move has been derided as kitsch, mawkish and embarrassing by some genealogists and commentators who see it as a cynical move to boost tourist numbers.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Martin, speaking at the Global Ireland Funds annual gathering in Dublin, said that the certificates would help those with Irish ancestry connect with the country.

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.

Dublin’s Irish Times quoted a department source saying that the scheme was intended to be self-financing. But he said it was not designed with the intention of raising significant amounts of revenue.

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

But genealogists are suspicious of the scheme which they believe will devalue the process of unearthing the family tree.

“What are to be the criteria for awarding such a certificate?” genealogist Paul Gorry told the Irish Times.

“Are we going to hand them out to people who ‘believe’ they are of Irish origin? These documents will be meaningless without proof of a person’s origins.”

“Heritage and business aren’t incompatible,” added another genealogist Steven Smyrl.
“But too often we end up with leprechauns and shamrock. This will end up as a gimmick if the only intention is to get people to visit Ireland.”

Commentator Martina Devlin, writing in the Irish Independent, slammed the idea as a “demeaning device to hoodwink descendants”.

“Diplomas of Irishness – even Walt Disney couldn’t have dreamed that one up. What’s next?
Lessons in how to speak with an Irish accent, cheques made payable to the Central Bank?”

But Minister Martin said the certificate, first suggested at last year’s Global Irish Economic Forum (GIEC), would go ahead. He said the GIEC recalibrated Ireland’s view of its diaspora.
“Perhaps we in Ireland, across all sectors, tended at times to take the relationship for granted or were slow to appreciate its full potential. The energy, commitment and sense of innovation generated at last year’s Forum fundamentally changed perceptions here – a change that I believe is irreversible,” Mr Martin said.

“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.”

by Billy Cantwell

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