The Government has approved a new diaspora strategy, setting out what the State will do to support and deepen engagement with Irish communities around the globe over the next five years.
Among the key commitments are holding a referendum to extend the right to vote in presidential elections to Irish citizens wherever they live; promoting opportunities to work and study in Ireland to the next generation of the diaspora; to tackle barriers facing emigrants who return home to Ireland.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the strategy celebrates the estimated 70 million people who are Irish born or of Irish descent around the world, and all who have a special affinity with Ireland.
"It cherishes their diversity, seeks to give our diaspora a strengthened voice within Irish life, while also setting out the many ways this Government will work to support the Irish abroad", he said.
The strategy has five main themes – people, values, prosperity, culture and influence – the latter concerned with extending Ireland's global reach by connecting to the next generation of the diaspora.
The first priority in the document is care for the most vulnerable and marginalised Irish emigrants.
It says the Government will support measures and organisations that protect the dignity and wellbeing of Irish emigrants. It says the State must "heal the relationship with our emigrants who left Ireland in crisis as a result of discrimination or as a victim of institutional abuse".
The Government has committed to holding a referendum to allow Irish citizens abroad vote in presidential elections, in order to strengthen the connection between the Diaspora and Ireland.
It renews the Government's commitment to seeking to establish pathways to legal migration to the United States, including continued support of the E3 Visa bill.
As well as stepping up engagement with Irish communities through the embassy and Consul General network (which is expanding), the Government will expand the honorary consul network in places with significant diaspora communities.
It will also expand "digital outreach", developing a single digital platform to provide content and resources for all diaspora groups, but particularly targeting members of the diaspora who are not currently involved in Diaspora networks or communities. And it will promote the learning of the Irish language through digital channels, and universities abroad.
The documents also seeks to promote Ireland as a destination for work and study opportunities, particularly targeting second and third-generation Irish abroad. It will boost promotion of existing programmes designed to bring people of Irish heritage to Ireland for short term work or study programmes.
For Irish emigrants returning to Ireland, the document promises to monitor the barriers they face in returning and where possible remove those barriers.
It will also seek to negotiate reciprocal agreements with countries with a lot of Irish emigrants on issues such as double taxation and social security issues, and it wants to expand mutual recognition and portability of academic or professional qualifications earned overseas (this has been an issue for many recent Irish migrants to Australia, and may become an issue for some UK qualifications, now that the UK has left the EU.)
Minister of State for the Diaspora Colm Brophy said just as Ireland is changing, so too is the experience of emigration.
Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, he said he is hopeful that legislation extending the right of Irish citizens abroad to vote in presidential elections will be passed through the houses of the Oireachtas next year, which will then enable a referendum to be held.
He described this as a "broad, encompassing idea" to allow Irish citizens abroad the opportunity to participate in a presidential election.
He said another important part of the strategy is removing some of the barriers to those returning home - such as opening bank accounts, getting insurance and accessing education and retraining programmes.
This can be difficult for those returning home from outside Ireland and the European Union, he said.
Extra emphasis on promoting the involvement of women and girls in sport
St Brigid's Day, 1 February 1, will be promoted as an annual day of celebration of the talent and creativity of Irish women across many spheres of life, and there will be extra emphasis on promoting the involvement of women and girls in sport as part of support package to promote Gaelic games abroad.
It will also build ties to the Ulster-Scots diaspora, "working with partners from Northern Ireland and around the globe".
While previous diaspora support has tended to focus on Irish born emigrants, the new strategy says the state "will make a concerted effort to connect with people born outside of Ireland who are entitled to Irish citizenship".
Article 2 of the constitution recognises the states "special affinity" with people of Irish ancestry living throughout the world. The plans envisages ceremonies to welcome new citizens receiving Foreign Birth Registration certificates in locations abroad.
There is also a renewed emphasis on connecting the diaspora for economic reasons – establishing regional business forums for Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the US and Canada. It also plans to set up sector specific Irish diaspora networks among research, development and innovation related communities, and Irish scientists and innovators abroad.
And there is to be an emphasis on connecting with less traditional Irish migration hotspots, seeking to develop deeper ties with the "affinity diaspora" in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. Minister Brophy said "Ireland today is a more diverse and multicultural country, and so too is our diaspora. This is something we value and will celebrate".
While the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to manage the Emigrant Support Programme, implementation of the wider strategy will be carried out through an inter-departmental committee on the Irish Abroad, chaired by the Minister for the Diaspora.