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Irish economist spurs Irish patriotism

Christian Myers | Monday, September 30, 2013

According to Irish economist and author David McWilliams, one solution to Ireland’s recent economic problems may come from the Irish but not from Ireland, it would come from what he calls the “great Irish tribe.”
McWilliams gave a lecture titled, “Ireland, Europe and the Irish Diaspora – Re-imagining Ireland in the 21st Century,” in the Rare Book Room of the Hesburgh Library on Friday.
McWilliams said Ireland’s current economic turmoil amidst the general problems of the Eurozone requires something drastic, but he believes this solution could be provided by the people worldwide who identify themselves as Irish.
“The future of Ireland needs another shock, and that’s where you come in, where the diaspora comes in,” McWilliams said.
He said the possibility of enlisting the self-identified Irish in places like the United States, Canada and Australia first came to his mind due to the comment of a mentor.
McWilliams said he was assigned a very experienced Israeli mentor while working for a Swiss bank in Israel. One day, this mentor said he noticed that he dealt with many ethnically Irish people when working with American companies and asked McWilliams whether or not the Irish had any mechanism for bringing these people back to Ireland.
McWilliams said he hadn’t given the subject much thought before then, but he didn’t think there was any such effort.
“We’ve done nothing but repel the tribe as far as I can tell,” he said.
McWilliams said he has since begun working on various projects to make use of the Irish overseas and his reason for coming to Notre Dame was to propose his ideas.
“[Notre Dame] is an incredibly powerful place to start these projects. Notre Dame is a huge resource for the Irish in America and a brilliant center for Irish connections. You can use Notre Dame to champion some of the ideas and feed into its network of alumni,” he said. “This could be a huge project which Notre Dame could be involved in.”
McWilliams said there are three elements of his overall proposal, a program resembling the “Birthright Israel” program, allowing Irish ex-patriots to vote in national elections and reaching out to the ethnically Irish based on town records.
McWilliams said during his time in Israel he learned about the birthright program, which provides free 10-day educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults from 60 different countries. McWilliams said he is hoping to create a similar program for Irish young adults.
The goal of the program is to instill a strong emotional connection with Ireland and their Irish heritage in the young adults, McWilliams said.”Emotional things that happen to you as a kid stick with you. Imagine as an American what it would mean to visit Ireland when you’re 15,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams said he has seen Polish, Italian, American and other ex-patriot groups line-up to vote in their nation’s elections while living overseas. Similarly enfranchising Irish citizens who are living abroad could help to alleviate problems of provisionalism and clientalism present in current Irish politics, he said. McWilliams said those who have lived abroad for a while might have a better perspective on what is good for the Irish nation as a whole.
McWilliams said he is also leading an effort to use town records and town gossips to trace the emigration stories of the world’s ethnically Irish and then reaching out to them with their own history.
“We can email you, everyone’s contactable nowadays, with a Google Maps image of the specific field from which your relative emigrated from Ireland,” he said. “With tech we can bring all this together.”
McWilliams said this idea that Ireland ought to do more to engage the ethnically Irish of the world, his “diaspora strategy,” was not initially as well received as it is now. He said the idea progressed through the three stages of reception from “open ridicule” to “violent opposition” to “everyone claims they were already on your side.”
“The idea was fist considered risible, something to be laughed at, but now everyone has a diaspora strategy,” he said.
McWilliams said this effort could be very successful because Ireland has one of the best “brand” names in the world, but it all depends on the cooperation of the Irish diaspora.
“The power of the diaspora can be forged to improve the ‘product’ of Ireland, a country with the most powerful ‘brand’ in the world because every member of the diaspora is a salesperson for the ‘brand,'” he said. “We can only do this if we work together.”