September 10, 2007

The Jack Charlton Theory of Economics

Posted in Ireland · 36 comments ·

‘You were a crap player and you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country and you’re not even Irish, you English cunt.’

Allegedly, with that parting shot, Roy Keane walked out of the Irish team at Saipan in 2002. But Roy had used the word that can never be spoken in polite society. He used the E-word. He called Mick McCarthy English and gin so doing, opened up the debate about what constitutes an Irishman. Is it enough to have Irish blood or do you have to be born here? What about those who live in an Irish area of Queens or London, have Irish parents and relations, feel themselves to be Irish, sing ‘The Fields of Athenry’ yet sound Scouse, Bostonian, Cape-Townian, Cockney or Canadian? Is the Diaspora truly Irish? Have we, the Irish born here, forgotten that these people are the Irish footprint around the world?

The best Irish football teams, the most successful ones, were those in the Charlton era who represented a widest-possible definition of Irishness. At the time many soccer commentators lamented the fact that there were so many of what was termed derogatorily ‘Plastic Paddies’ on the team. But these men were the demographic echo of the 500,000 Irish emigrants who left for Britain from 1949-1961. These were the sons of men and women who were driven out by De Valera’s economic nationalism. They pulled on the jersey and, as far as we were concerned, they were as Irish as anyone else. When Kevin Sheedy scored against the country in which he had been brought up, we didn’t question his bona fides. When Ray Houghon scored against Italy at the Giants Stadium and England at the Nekker Stadium, did we care that he was brought up in Scotland? When Alan McLoughlin’s drive saved us at Windsor Park, Belfast in November 1993 in a night of sectarian madness, we didn’t ask whether his Manchester accent made him any less one of us than Gary Kelly, Packie Bonner or Roy himself.

The sons of exiles added enormously to the potential of the team, giving it options and talents that we would not otherwise have had. This was a post-nationalist, national soccer team, the very essence of globalisation.

Like the football team, if we “want to compete at the highest level”, the Irish economy has to find a unique advantage because globalisation has changed the pace of everything: every time you are ahead of the posse, someone copies you, every time you think you’ve found a new idea, it is downloaded and customised.

When once we thought we had a comparative advantage, we are now only seeing a temporary monopoly. Where once we were the only country at the multinational game, now India, China and Indonesia can photocopy the Irish game plan, implement it and execute it at a fraction of the cost. So what are we going to do?

What can Ireland do that might make us special? Education? That can be copied. EU membership? Not unique. Tax policy? Not unique. Geography? Nope. Capital? No, that’s available to any country with a good idea and trade is open to almost anyone. People? Well, yes and no. Is there anything in our history, our culture or brains that makes us different? What, to use the business vernacular, is our USP or to use the technological term, what’s our killer application?

The most recent IDA advert for the nation suggests that it, too, is self-conscious. Our recent national campaign is not a litany of stats about competitiveness, costs or the like. It is a Louis le Brocquy drawing of Bono under the title, ‘The Irish Mind’. The implication is that we think differently, the Irish have mental agility that others don’t have and even if we are getting expensive, we’re worth it, because we’ll do your thinking for you. But there aren’t that many of us and capacity is crucial.

Now think about the potential economic impact of the Irish Diaspora. This is one thing we have that so few other countries have. This is our biggest and most unique resource and yet we don’t appreciate its value. Like Roy Keane, many of us are, if not hostile, not particularly welcoming to the exiles. But all our great-grandparents are from the same root. Now, four generations after the Famine, it could well be that the history and culture of the Irish people, one of the world’s great clans, is about to fuse with the demands of the Irish State to ensure that we remain one of the world’s most successful economic jurisdictions. This is the next part of the Irish story: a 21st-century economic narrative conceived in the demographics of 19th-century emigration.


Sheila and Eileen Geoghegan turned up at the Irish Embassy in Buenos Aires in 2002, just months after the collapse of the Argentinian economy. The sisters, aged 18 and 20, wanted to claim Irish citizenship through their great-grandparents who had arrived on the City of Dresden with 2000 other Irish emigrants in 1889. They wanted to come home.

Sheila and Eileen have Irish blood on both sides going back to their eight great-grandparents. As far as they are concerned, Ireland is their homeland. They are from a town called Duggan north of Buenos Aires where 60% of the people can trace their ancestors back to County Westmeath. English is their first language. They were taught by Irish nuns and priests. They know the words to ‘Danny Boy’. Their parents still speak with Midlands accents.

They are part of a 500,000-strong Irish Argentinian population. Yet these sisters were refused entry visas. They were one generation too late. Had their grandparents been born here, they would have qualified, but as their grandmother, Mabel Ryan, who speaks with a flat Mullingar accent, was born in Argentina, the family were not Irish enough.

We refused entry to two young women, educated, sophisticated, willing to work, with invaluable ties to Latin America, fluent in the second-most-widespread language in the world and, most crucially, committed emotionally to Ireland. If brain power is soft power, networks are invaluable and people are the only asset that counts in our new competitive world, then surely this refusal makes no sense.

These people are potentially pioneer immigrants who want to come home and have a deep, vested interest in our culture but we snub them. These are the people who keep the Irish flag flying in the remotest parts of the world, the people who suffered most under our colonial past, who sent money home to Ireland when we hadn’t a bean and who took other destitute Irish into their communities when wave after wave arrived on the docks in Argentina. They are emotionally drawn to us, they are our history and yet modern Ireland gives them the finger.

There are 3.5 million Irish citizens living outside the country. But the greater Diaspora is considerably bigger. In economic terms, the 70 million-strong Irish tribe is the 21st-century equivalent of a huge oil deposit. In the same way as oil guarantees Saudi Arabia’s future, the Irish tribe could be the key to Ireland’s prosperity in the next century. Unlike oil, because the tribe exists inside the minds of millions of Irish people around the world, if we cultivate it properly, it is a resource that won’t run out.

It is time to see the island of Ireland in the 21st century as the cradle of a global nation. This nation extends all over the world, gelled together by the shared experience of previous generations. We should institute a “right of return” policy and extend citizenship to people of Irish decent, extending beyond the present cut off point of two generations. This would create a strong bond between the tribe and the mother country. The exiles could boost our labour force and in the new, soft world, their brains are invaluable. There is a feather-light economic army of grey matter and these people could be at our disposal. All we have to do is imagine a New Hibernia.

The Generation Game

One hundred years ago, Irish writers, academics and dreamers imagined a New Ireland. This New Ireland would be free from English domination, free to do as she pleased, free to express herself and to frame her own destiny. But the achievement of geographical and political sovereignty should be looked at as only the first chapter of independence for the Irish nation.

In the first phase of Irish independence, Ireland was a narrow-gauge 26-county concept. For the first 70 years of its existence, from 1922 to 1992, the limits of this ambition were not so evident because the world was a place of fixed borders, territorial wars, managed trade, ideological power blocks and very little international migration. Given the global background noise, such a limited geographic definition of Irishness was understandable.

In contrast, the modern world is a nomadic one, of free movement of practically everything. People are on the move constantly. Quite apart from the new global reality, which should of itself get us thinking, the coming slowdown in Ireland should focus our minds and be seen as a chance to go back to the drawing board. A house-price collapse is not a long-term disaster; it is an opportunity to re-prioritise. For example, in 1990, Finland suffered a dramatic house-price slump. The Finns reacted to this positively with a root-and-branch reform of their society. They realised that land and land speculation were fool’s gold, so they invested heavily in technology and education. They even went as far as improving the health of the nation by successfully changing the national diet. They re-invented themselves. Today, Finland tops almost every index of political, social and economic achievement. Ireland should do something similar–not by copying the Finns, but by playing to our own strengths.

We need, once more, to re-imagine Ireland and to use all the resources at our disposal to take advantage of the new globalised world. In a sense, we need a post-nationalist, national project.

In years to come, the big political battleground will not be the 20th-century set-piece battles between Left and Right, capitalism and socialism, coloniser and occupier or rich and poor. Free-market capitalism and its handmaiden, liberal democracy, have produced unassailable results in terms of political freedom, economic self fulfilment and societal sophistication. This is likely to remain the template for successful countries such as Ireland.

The next battle will be framed by the enormous movement of people around the globe and particularly, migration from the poor South to the rich North. Therefore, the new fault line is likely to be between the demands of the market state and the foundations of the nation state. Mass immigration and multiculturalism, which might be necessary to create an efficient economy, will not be tolerated by people who value the uniqueness of the nation. There is a trade-off between culture and economics and in the years ahead, culture will matter at least as much as economics. Whether we like it or not, mass global migration threatens cultures in the same way as mass global communications do. If people begin to feel alienated in their own country, they will wonder what the point is of having a successful economy when the long-term cost is that Ireland turns into
Connecticut with bad weather. The dilemma for modern nations will be how to remain flexible and open without threatening the traditional culture that makes them different.

Too much Cosmopolitanism dilutes the very Hibernianism that makes us Irish. Finding that particular sweet spot, where we get the best economic performance point without undermining our culture, is almost impossible and the lesson from the rest of Europe is that it is easy to get the balance wrong.

Culture Matters

Now that Ireland has become an immigrant nation and we have seen that the country can absorb considerably more people than any of us imagined possible a few years ago, we should consider what type of immigrants we want because in our successful economy and tolerant society, we have created something of value, something that has a price on it, something which should be cherished, not given away cheaply. A successful economy and society is like a well-tended garden. The gardener spends time and effort thinking about which plants to plant, which will flourish, which will allow others enough light to blossom and how the entire ecosystem works. This doesn’t happen overnight, but via a process of trial and error that, in most cases, takes years to perfect. The gardener will be cautious about introducing new plants which might overshadow some of the existing varieties. He is always weighing up, assessing and imagining what fits where. Societies and immigration policy are likely in the future to be similarly selective and planned.

There is nothing new in this contention. Most mature countries have arrived at this conclusion. So Canada and Australia have an exclusive immigration policy based on qualifications. If you have a skill that these countries are lacking, then you can acquire the requisite points for entry. This is a highly restrictive and discriminatory policy, but it works. At the moment, free travel within the EU, a community of 456 million people, means that Ireland–given that we are a magnet for immigrants and that we make up only 1% of the total EU population–
could find its culture diluted quite easily. When you are small, it doesn’t take a lot of people to alter the social balance.

So Ireland’s dilemma, of getting the best economic performance, while at the same time not jeopardising the culture significantly, will not be solved by current EU policies. But if we look at the difference between us and other EU countries, we see that they do not have an ace up their sleeves–they do not have a literate, urban, global tribe of exiles. The exiles are precisely the soft power that countries yearn for and most importantly, if we cultivate them, our exiles will give us that competitive advantage while reinforcing Irishness. This appears to be a win-win situation where both the economy and the traditional culture are strengthened at once.

Do the Right Thing

Not only does this make sense from a future economic perspective, it is also the right thing to do. For years Ireland survived on emigrants’ remittances. If you examine the Irish balance-of-payments figures in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and into the late-1960s, you’ll find that the cash inflow from emigrants sending money home kept this country afloat. It is only right that we repay the children of these people who gave so much to us while in exile. In addition, embracing the prodigal sons would be a true sign of Irish economic success and maturity. In 1990, Germany extended its financial generosity to 100,000 ethnic Germans living in Russia–the Volga Germans. By doing so, the large paternalist German State was throwing its arms around people of German culture, even though their ancestors had left Germany four centuries previously. The German State repatriated tens of thousands of these people. It was a generous gesture that arguably, only a rich State at ease with itself could have carried through. Likewise, the Finnish government extended passports to Finnish communities in Kerelia, Northern Russia. This is another example of the home State taking responsibility for the tribe.

As the returning Jews have done in Israel — who extend citizenship to every Jewish person around the world – the returning Irish exiles would inject vibrancy and enthusiasm into both our contemporary and traditional culture while at the same time opening up economic opportunities all over the world. Anything that makes the tribe stronger makes the homeland stronger. In time the relationship becomes symbiotic. The brand gets deeper and ultimately, we could turn the Irish tribe into the largest sales force in the world, selling Ireland first to themselves and then to others. Think about the opportunities for trade alone. By building a worldwide community, we open up opportunities in the remotest parts of the world with people who are equally at home here and there. This is like having a global network of ambassadors for Ireland, Irish products, Irish culture and Irish know-how.

Internationally, we would be pushing on an open door because, unlike the Israelis, we have no enemies. We are neutral, we didn’t take anyone’s land and we didn’t invade anyone’s country. We have no need for brute strength. Who could object to the Irish State seeking to look after the global Irish tribe who supported us for so long? This idea threatens no-one. Our present EU commitments mean that the door would still be open to European workers. It is not an “either or idea”.

The driving force behind this type of Irish Renaissance would be primarily an economic policy, with positive cultural spin-offs. This makes it the opposite of the old-fashioned nationalist initiatives which put culture first and economics second. This idea is open-armed Hibernianism for a Cosmopolitan age, rather than closed-shop nationalism for an Imperial age.

It is often said that Ireland punches above its weight on the international stage. Others marvel at how such a small country can grab a disproportionate share of the global limelight. Well, it’s not so much that the Irish punch above their weight, but that the Irish State lets us all down, all 70 million of us, by the paucity of its own ambition. The State is the custodian of the tribe. Ireland has a responsibility to the Irish. Without active guardianship from the home country, the tribe will not flourish and, in a few generations, this extraordinary opportunity will dissipate. For generations, Irish communities abroad have been replenished by new migrants, new exiles who constantly topped up the Diaspora, ensuring that the cycle of emigration, settling down, passing on and resuscitating the tribe repeated itself. This is no longer happening.

We appear to punch above our weight because up to now we have not told anyone, ourselves included, how substantial we actually are. Ireland doesn’t realise how strong the Irish brand is. Irishness has been constructed inside the minds of, and propagated by, the Diaspora since the Famine. It is time for the Irish State to live up to its responsibility to be the dynamo behind an Irish Renaissance that transcends borders. We can re-imagine Ireland and reposition ourselves for the 21st century.

Globalisation could be the golden era of the Irish. We can turn our historical defeat into a future victory. In the successful Republic of Ireland we have the platform, in the peaceful Northern Ireland we have the symbol and in the Diaspora we have the unique resource. For years, the exiled Irish reminded us of our economic failure back at home. They were traditionally the victims of a failed Ireland; in our globalised future they will be the saviours of a successful Ireland. All we need is the courage to imagine a Greater Ireland that transcends geography, where the country is the mothership and the tribe is the nation.

There is nothing particularly new in this generational idea. The Irish Constitution aspires to it. As Article 2 states:

… the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.

Let’s make this ‘special affinity’ a reality by calling them home.

  1. Paul

    Absolutely agree 100%. We didn’t invade them, but those nations gave us permission to invade their minds. The Irish Empire is one of the mind, and even those without a drop of Irish blood feel drawn to Ireland. See how devastated John Hurt was to discover he has no Irish roots at all. Even these ones could be embraced or recognised in some way. Having returned after spending some years living in the US and Australia, I believe you cannot fully understand what it means to be Irish until you live overseas and experience the warmth of the diaspora. It’s our ‘secret sauce’, our USP. Lets get networking!

  2. Aidan

    My children were born in Holland and are Irish citizens so I relate very much to where you are coming from. Personally I find it very difficult to translate any sense of Irishness to my children whereas my Polish wife has no problem passing on her culture. The main reason for this is language. Unless you are an Irish speaker your children brought up outside of Ireland end up getting more English-speaking culture than Irish culture. They read books in English, watch CBeebies or American films and we sing English nursery rhymes. Any food I make from my youth like Sheperds’ Pie is actually British. The only Irish influence they get is when we visit Ireland or my family visits us. Polish influences are stronger in terms of cuisine, language, literature and television not to mention the fact that we have a Polish church here. There is no Irish church as Irish people belong to the English speakers group.
    I say all this because I can’t see how my children will end up feeling more for Ireland than for Holland or Poland. I imagine that many of the 70 million you are counting would be similar. I know plenty of ‘Irish’ people in Britain who are as English as the boat race.
    As I see it Ireland could do a lot more to nurture the diaspora:
    a) Scrap the ridiculous witness requirements from passport forms. Try explaining the need for these signatures and stamps to a Dutch policeman.
    b) Give the Irish abroad a vote in general elections which is normal practice for other countries.
    c) Set up a proper tv channel like TV Polonia, TV5 or TVE to service the diaspora.
    d) Set up subsidized Irish cultural schools like the Polish Saturday schools we have in every town in Holland.

    Unless these links are nurtured I don’t think that you can count on the 70 million people you mention.

  3. James B.

    I don’t agree with your statement that ‘Globalisation could be the golden era of the Irish…’ and the reason is ‘Peak Oil’. One of the main reasons why globalisation has taken of to the extent that it has, is the availability of cheap oil. Once oil peaks, transport is going to become very expensive and once that happens the idea of sending goods half way around the world will be replaced with ‘Localisation’ where goods and services will start to be produced again locally.

    We need to start planning now for a future without oil and take a leadership role like Sweden( You should also check out for the latest on peak oil.

  4. Damien

    Spot on. Easing ancenstry visa requirements is a no brainer. At the very worst the place will be flooded with Americians and Austrailians who’ll be pleased to no longer have to go through the non-EU passport controls.

  5. Paddy

    It’s time you went into politics. You’ve got a lot of ideas for turning things around… it’s not just going to happen by itself…

  6. Dan Hayes

    David & Co.:

    Let’s dot the i’s and cross the t’s. What you’re actually saying is that if Ireland is going to be invaded (and that’s what globalization is all about), let’s be invaded by our kinfolk (even those somewhat removed)!

    Politically Incorrect? Maybe. But definitely true!


  7. JJ Tatten


    I very much enjoyed The Pope’s Children and I’ve pre-ordered your new book. But, on the evidence of this extract, I think there are a number of issues you’ve neglected to consider in your drive to call home ‘the tribe’.
    The Irish diaspora returning home is an appealing notion but I believe the cold hard facts of everyday life in Ireland make it an unrealistic prospect for most of the global Irish tribe.
    I’ve lived in the UK for the past 20 years and travel ‘home’ to Ireland four or five times a year to visit family and friends.
    Like most Irish emigrants, I have on one or two occasions considered moving my family to Ireland, but each time have decided not to and the primary reasons are as follows:

    Healthcare: why would I give up the National Health Service to pay a minimum of €100 to some parasitical organisation like Bupa or VHI whose list of illnesses they will not treat effectively means you are insuring yourself against ingrown toenails and flu? It used to cost me €50 to take my kids to a doctor in Ireland whereas now – thanks to my NHS travel card – it costs me nothing, but the Doctor still bills the British state.

    Infrastructure: Despite years of supposed investment Irish roads are still crap. A little bit of dual carriageway here and there does not constitute a roads network. The NRA couldn’t organise the proverbial piss-up – which I know through personal experience. The LUAS is the only significant transport initiative since the DART and even that wasn’t applied using joined-up thinking. And as for the trains… jaysus.

    Civic amenities: This is the era of the supposed Celtic Tiger -but where are all the new swimming pools, stadia, public parks? I live in one of the poorest cities in the UK and yet it manages to fund (via the public purse) a rugby league stadium, a football stadium, an athletics stadium an ice-hockey stadium, four museums (all free of charge), a state-of-the-art aquarium, an ice-hockey arena and an arts cinema. Incidentally, the Irish diaspora has been very active on the governing body of this town over the years and have been instrumental in providing many of these amenities (Kevin McNamara MP being the most recent example).

    Childcare: Where are your state-funded nurseries? Until starting primary school my children attended a wonderful FREE state-of-the-art nursery staffed by professional compassionate, QUALIFIED nursery nurses and teachers who had at their disposal an abundance of teaching aids.(see This nursery is within walking distance – and if it wasn’t, they’d lay on a free school bus. Their primary-school textbooks are free, as are their school meals and there is even a free breakfast club for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Housing: Selling my 5-bedroomed Edwardian house with its 200ft garden would give me enough funds to buy a three/four-bedroomed terraced dog box in Raheny (where I hail from).

    Ireland’s people are its greatest strength – you are absolutely right about that. On the international stage the diaspora are second to none in terms of their political and social activism, their amiability and their ability to adapt and succeed – often against considerable odds.

    But for reasons unknown the Irish in Ireland persist in electing an endless procession of self-serving shifty horse traders as their civic representatives who continually fail to give the people the society they deserve. And nobody seems to do anything about it or, indeed, care.

    Why would we, the proud Irish global tribe come back to that?

  8. Dónall Garvin

    Did i not read you saying that Diasporas were a bad thing for countries (i think you cited Israel)

    As an Irish exile and Northerner I have a different view on what being Irish means.
    While I take pride in being Irish I would not like to live in Ireland (North or South)
    Like JJ Tatten I don’t rate Ireland’s standard of living that highly.

    Like a lot of the exiles that I know, I visit home 4-5 times a year, but there is a reason why we are only visiting.

  9. pollydolly

    Hmm, not sure about this – it all sounds a bit “zeig heil” to me. Also, would following the Israeli model be a GOOD thing?

  10. Bill

    I agree with JJ Tatten & Dónall – I’ve lived in Edinburgh for 11 years. I feel the pull of ‘home’ strongly, and visit often, but have to make realistic choices. I’m from the same part of the world as David (Sandycove), and trying to buy a house there is a fool’s game.

    However, the diaspora here is strong, with business and networking social events organised by the Irish Consul in the city, so some of what is being argued for here is already in place. I assume the the Department for Foreign Affairs pays for our hors d’oeuvres and booze, so thanks for that lads.

  11. Anne Osborne

    A couple of months ago I visited a Canadian nephew and his wife who moved to Newfoundland via Dublin, where they had spent five years studying at Trinity (him) and working in high tech (her). She got her Irish citizenship via a grandfather who was born here and emigrated at age 5 with his family to Saskatchewan; the nephew is now an Irish citizen via his marriage to her; his Irish connections go back to great and great-grandparents.

    They’re part of the diaspora too: their new home, St John’s, is full of Canadian Irish (many who sound like they just got off the boat from Waterford), who listen to Canadian-Irish trad music, drink pints in pubs that wouldn’t be out of place in any town or village here and share a landscape that is heart-breakingly like our own.

    Newfoundland reminds me of Ireland 30 years ago, when I first moved here in that it is transforming itself from a poor, backward ‘nation’ that has suffered from the effects of political neglect and incompetence (both from national and provincial goverments), mass emigration, and economic decline (mainly the fishing trade). Today, as a result of oil finds off its coasts (sound familiar?), the gradual replacement of fisheries with small high-tech Canadian and US companies that are taking advantage of an attractive tax regime, access to well-educated young grads and the lowest property prices in Canada, a new economy, based on oil, tech services and tourism is emerging.

    Newfoundland’s people – so many of them the children of the Irish diaspora – see a real future for themselves and their families.

    The ties to Ireland are strong – though not exclusively familial like mine. The idea of being Irish – and a Newfoundlander – is part of the consciousness for so many (just like it was for those two Argentinians) and Newfoundland would be a great place for smaller Irish companies especially to start pumping up their networking, using the island province as a gateway into Canada in the same way as Ireland was used as a gateway into Europe by US and Canadian companies. The cross-tourism opportunities are huge.

    With a flight time of just three hours between Shannon and St John’s, (and less on the home leg with a good tail wind behind you) maybe someone with a couple of spare 737s parked at Shannon might even get around to scheduling a few flights?

  12. SpinstaSista

    Brave words, David. But do the diaspora want to come back? Personally I think we have already lost our cultural identity – we’re giving it away on a plate! If things continue as they are people living in Ireland will regard noodles or rice as their staple carbohydrate instead of potatoes.

  13. SpinstaSista

    Brave words, David. But does the diaspora really want to come back to Ireland? Personally I think we have already lost our cultural identity – we’re giving it away on a plate! If things continue as they are people living in Ireland will regard noodles or rice as their staple carbohydrate instead of potatoes.

  14. Some great ideas in there. Contrary to what one of your other readers said, I hope you DON’T go into politics, it would suck you down and destroy your creativity. I think you can do a lot more as an independent commentator and agitator. Politicians lead from behind, when they see your books and TV shows doing well, they’ll repeat your ideas and claim them. That’s how we get things done.

    I always wondered what would Ireland be like today if we didn’t have the famine and our population was 15m to 20m? Remember that England was only around 15m in the early 1840′s, compared to an official 8m in Ireland (and suspected unoffically it was was as high as 12m). Maybe what you suggest here is the chickens coming home to roost and the natural (?) conclusion of that story.

  15. Many of those living abroad who were born in Ireland may one day want to come home. (I was once in that category myself and came home to roost).

    But I suspect that SpinstaSista, JJ Tatten and Dónall are right. The vast bulk of those who are part of the diaspora but who were born abroad will never come home and wouldn’t want to.

    Take the American Irish ( I mean 2nd, 3rd generation and later). While they have a strong affinity with Ireland and would probably like to visit, and many of them do, in the end they are more American than Irish. Culturally they are American. And the nature of life there and here is so different that coming home to stay would be enormously difficult.

    So there will be no mass return. But that is not to say we still should not strive to harness the potential of the diaspora. We should certainly be doing our utmost to build on the collective sense of Irishness that the diaspora feels all around the world. It looks naff to us, but the paddy’s day parades and celebrations around the world provide a unique entry point to build links with the diaspora. Which is why I don’t object to the government junkets on paddy’s day. The shamrocks at the whitehouse and the green ties jar, but are part of a vital link. In the business world, you see a huge number of Irish names in the top ranks of American companies. That’s a well to be tapped. For sure no company will locate here or choose an Irish company as partner if the business case is wrong, but all other things being equal, a few ties with Ireland and an affinity for the country can shade it.

    As far as I am aware Ireland doesn’t have the equivalent of the Alliance Francaise which promotes french language and culture abroad. Nor the equivalent of the Italian expatriate group UIM (Unione Italiani nel Mondo). Perhaps its time to think about something along these lines.

  16. Second paragraph should read “The vast bulk of those who are part of the diaspora but who were NOT born abroad will never come home and wouldn’t want to”

  17. SpinstaSista

    Tomtaltach, that would be a shame. There are already countries in Europe where migrants and their families outnumber the host population in certain areas, for example the Netherlands. The remaining members of the host population no longer feel at home any more, so they are leaving to join communities of people who emigrated from their country to places such as South Africa.

    The Irish are starting up up sticks too, emigrating to the USA and Australia if they qualify to work in those countries, or retiring to more agreeable climates such as Spain and Portugal. Most of these people would say that there is a better quality of life abroad.

    I cannot understand why anybody would want to move to Ireland with its traffic jams, crazy house prices and high cost of living if they can have a better quality of life elsewhere. The only people who seem to want to stay in Ireland are those who are coming from countries with a much poorer standard of living, those from 2nd or 3rd world type countries. Eastern Europeans who have made a great contribution to Ireland and should be encouraged to stay aren’t here for the long term. As soon as they have saved up enough money (no mean feat in this country) they are heading home to put their hard earned euros into their own country.

    When the hardworking Eastern Europeans have gone home, and the Irish who can leave through emigration or retirement have gone for a better quality of life what will we have left? If the multinationals pull out in the meantime I shudder to think what could be the answer to my question.

  18. john

    I think when we joined the EEC a train was set in motion which put us on a different trajectory and made ireland a very different country to the one many immigrants left. In many ways before we joined the EEC we were more in touch with the diaspora this is because ireland remained unchanged and immigrants returning were very happy to slot back into the old ireland. It was a wonderful country for the visitor. Of course the big changes in ireland didn’t really happen until the celtic tiger started. I remember talking to someone who immigrated in the early 70s he said nothing changed much for years and then everything changed. Many irish immigrants are now disillusioned with modern ireland, one off houses, out of town shopping centres, and new immigrants. The only way we can reconnect is if we turn back the clock or move forward in a totally different trajectory. Of course this could happen if ireland found itself in economic circumstances which made it unable to continue in europe. Irish history is so interesting because it is full of trajedies and big changes, maybe the next interesting episode is about to begin. Nothing can be ruled out with fianna fail in power

  19. andrew


    I can help you understand why someone would move to Ireland from a country with a “better quality of life”. I moved here 2 years ago from Vancouver, Canada, a city consistetnly ranked #2 or #3 on the Mercer quality of life list. Yes, there is bad traffic here, poor healthcare, and crazy house prices. so it is in Vancouver too. The housing in Vancouver is probably more expensive than here relative to the income earned in Vancouver.

    the intriguing thing that drew me here was that Ireland was in the midst of a phase of development. Vancouver, and many parts of Canada, already are what they are going to be, so there is no hope of really changing it to be something else.

    sure, ireland does not yet have the infrastructure required to meet the needs of its people, but that gives it the chance to get it right.

    don’t be fooled by thinking the grass is greener in other countries. parents i know back home complain about house prices, daycare prices (if they can even find a spot for the child), poor schooling, and healthcare waiting times (my brother is waiting18 months to have knee surgery), just like they do here.

    what makes me optimistic about Ireland is at least there are examples in other countries who have got it right and wrong and they can learn from those examples.

    as for the traffic, build more motorwats, and you’ll just have more traffic.

  20. Conor

    I agree that we should find a greater place in Irelnd and Irish life for our diaspora, after all they are our sons and daughters. I also agree that allowing a subsantial amount of educated people to ‘come home’ so to speak has certain advantages for the economy where skills-shortages do exist. Nobody can deny the contribution made to Ireland by returned emigrants, eastern European migrants and others from far and wide during a time of huge growth. These people filled jobs in a time of need and prevented wage demands from escalating even further than they already did and for that we should be greatful.

    Nevertheless, I do not understand how the return of vast swathes of the Irish diaspora can fundamentally change the structure of the Irish economy. I do not understand how these people can shift our economy from property built on sand to sound, diverse businesses. Of course our diaspora are an imoportant resource, after-all, what other country in the world can count on seventy million ambassadors and of course these people should be welcomed home with open arms and a céad míle fáilte at any time. However state policy should be directed at building a fundamentally stong, stable, solid, sustainable economy like that of our neighbours in the United Kingdom.

    The time was upon us to invest and perhaps there is still time. We live in a globalised and competitive world. In the pas this has presented us with the advantage of attracting multinational manufacturing business, however this business is moving to other enviornments with the same conditions as Ireland ten years ago. This mean we have to adapt. There is no sense of competing with China and the Czech Republic. Those economies are at a different stage of development to our own. In Ireland the focus must be geared towards the knowledge economy. We must equip our labour wih the skills to succeed in a globalised world. We must develop the infrastructure to succeed in this latest shift of economic development. New Labour in Britain recognised the need to do this in the 1990s and so must we.

    We have had ten years of unprecedented growth and cash on hand to develop and invest. Instead we have squandered and wasted an invaluable opportunity. Perhaps it’s not too late to do consolidate these gains. Perhaps there is still time to invest n the future, though I doubt it. No all we can look foward to in Ireland is a return to the bad old days and it is nothing more than we deserve after such a wasted opportunity. All I can say is thank God I have the price of a plane ticket to London in my pocket so that I too can become a member of the Irish diaspora.

  21. Paolo

    Hello David,

    Itt is clear that the political establishment is not able to manage a tier one country like Ireland deseves to be. Like a football manager of a first division team who has had tremendous success and gone to the premier league, most politicians with very few exceptions are now totally out of their league. They all take credit for the undeniable economic boom this country has enjoyed, but refuse any blame for some of the horrors that have come with it. It is called managing growth and in many areas they have failed. Health service, planning and development, infrastructure, environment, road safety. How do you think they would manage with a huge further influx of people from different countries despite the fact thet they would be of irish descent ? Look at the way they are coping with immigration now..I like your idea ( I am not irish but I have lived here many years and certainly would not feel threatened by it, quite the opposite) but I have huge reservations about the brick-dependent political midgets running this country being able to manage this properly. All the best

  22. Dónal


    I find it scandolous that these 2 girls were denied citizenship. I’m sure many people may agree with this but if you can claim your ancestry in Ireland say 6 generations and you have enough knowledge of the nation & culture, intellect & sense of belonging to this country ….. then I think you can call yourself Irish.

    We should be encouraging the victims of the irish diaspora to comeback to this country instead of just forgetting about them and refering to it as a proud moment in our history, I can certainly say that from my own experience its better to be in your own ancestral nation than be refered to as an immigrant who settled here and never aspiring to go home. These people are seen as burdens to their host society because you have the catch-22 of having to adopt the host nation as your new home and balance your cultural traditions.

    When you choose one over the other; you’re seen as either an outcast by the native population or essentially a traitor by your own people.

    Most minority children are so unaware of their own cultural past which is shocking

  23. Hi David
    After reading all the comments regarding whether or not the diaspora would return, I still can’t figure out what they are supposed to do. Simply arriving in this country is only going to raise unemployment and put more pressure on the social welfare system. Am I missing the point?

  24. Ed


    I think that you’re way off the mark in thinking that the Irish Diaspora is an untapped gold mine. It has been my experience that the vast majority of the Irish family abroad would not like to come here and settle in like the Jews do in Israel. The fact that they or their forefathers had to leave these shores in the first place carries with it a certain resentment towards the descendants of those who were in a position to remain. They see the excesses in our society as being at the expense of those that had to leave. Who could blame them – the remarks of the German Diplomat to his fellow countrymen about the pay levels of our junior ministers, that all our politicians naturally found offensive, is a typical example of what the real view is from the outside.
    Excess is a real problem for us Irish and it extends across the full spectrum of life here – it’s a big turnoff for people from stable countries who are looking for a long-term future. A short term stay may be fine, but the long term is a different matter. Israel and its relationship with its Diaspora is totally different to ours.

  25. thank god its not raining

    Excellent piece.Coming back to the possibility of winding up in a coma after being attacked on a friday or saturday night, having to listen to the endless tragedy of not being able to afford to buy 12 pints because “de mortgage is killin’ me”;having a “shifty horse trader spending my money to build roads that are made of leftover chipboard from a 3000 house development in Loo can.Eh, no thanks.

    Buying a house, apartment or dog kennel in any major city in Europe with enough land to fit Leitrim into on the side, being able to read a broadsheet without being called a “fookin’ intellectewel.”Forking out more for a meal in a top restaurant and taxes and property charges.Eh, yes please.

    I sometimes wish I had stayed in Dublin to spend seventeen grand a year on raincoats and umbrellas.And then be mugged by the heroin addicted taxi driver who is doing me a favour by bringing me home ‘ cos the missus is expectin’ me eleventh child and I was on me way home.

    And sometimes I don’t.

    Take what equity is left and move to India!!!!Even people with country accents will get call centre jobs!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Flee!!Flee!!Flee while you can!!!!!

  26. David,

    Lile the way you are thinking but the idea of the paddies having a ‘bond’ with each other all over the world wont work like the Jews. We are too begrudging of each other and nothing pleases the ol’ ones on the bingo bus and the high stool professors is the story of the local lad who ‘ fell on his arse i.e his business failed, ” who did he think he was anyway, the cocky bollox”. We love it when one of our own
    hit hard times unless they get so big like JP McManus or his buddies then we allpretend to our friends that myself and JP are friends for a long time.
    It was true when a great philosopher said that the Irsh were the only ones that could not be psyhio analysied. The only way we will help each other is if we each win the euro millions and then we will have lots of helpfull neighbours. I could do a spell check on this but couldnt be bothered you can do that yourself David and by the way who the hell do you think you are … Just kidding but you get my drift.

  27. David,

    Like the way you are thinking but the idea of the paddies having a ‘bond’ with each other all over the world wont work like the Jews. We are too begrudging of each other and nothing pleases the ol’ ones on the bingo bus and the high stool professors is the story of the local lad who ‘ fell on his arse i.e his business failed, ” who did he think he was anyway, the cocky bollox”. We love it when one of our own
    hit hard times unless they get so big like JP McManus or his buddies then we allpretend to our friends that myself and JP are friends for a long time.
    It was true when a great philosopher said that the Irsh were the only ones that could not be psyhio analysied. The only way we will help each other is if we each win the euro millions and then we will have lots of helpfull neighbours. I could do a spell check on this but couldnt be bothered you can do that yourself David and by the way who the hell do you think you are … Just kidding but you get my drift.

  28. Dan Hayes

    To david Falt,

    The “philosppher” was a fraud who went by the name Sigmund Freud. But his judgement about the Irish was probably the only thing he ever said that made sense. Of course it was the ultimate compliment.

  29. Noreen

    Except Freud never actually said it. Everyone quotes it, but there’s no source for it.

  30. JJ Tatten

    ‘Put an Irishman on the spit and you can always get another Irishman to turn him.’
    George Bernard Shaw

  31. Donal

    To Ed,

    the irish diaspora ”IS” an untapped goldmine. There are plenty of Irish-Americans who would benefit this country skill-wise.

    Policemen, FireFighters, Soldiers, Farmers & Entrepreneurs who can settle here and use their skills to our own advantage for our society. As long they accept to adopt their own ancestral culture only and be willing to be briefed on what we’d expect of them (Our own ideas, acknowledging traditional Irish Values etc), there wouldn’t be big problems.

    This would finally put some sort of closure on one sad chapter of our national history, we shaped some of the destinies in Latin America with Bernardo O’Higgins & William Brown for the argentina navy.

    As for some of the estimated 500,000 people in Argentina of Irish Extraction, we finally might have a chance at winning the world cup or even qualify for europe in soccer!

    Let these people come home!

  32. JJ Tatten

    Your attempts to attract the diaspora back to Ireland are being thwarted by your very own commercial bedfellows.
    As somebody who has bought your first book and DVD and has your second on order, I was keen to check out RTE’s online screening of ‘Ireland’s Generation Game’ ( I clicked on the link which said ‘Click here to watch the Show’. This led to a Media Player screen and I settled back with a nice cup of scald to enjoy what was certain to be an hour of insightful and entertaining observations. However, once the advert imploring me to sign up with Vodaphone PrePay (ROI only) had finished, big white letters appear on the screen telling me that DUE TO COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS YOU CANNOT ACCESS THIS MATERIAL. Curiously it goes on to suggest thet for more details I should go to This I duly did and was bemused to read the following…

    ‘For copyright reasons, in agreement with the associated rights-holder bodies, RTÉ.ie streaming content on the web in some cases can only be accessed from certain territories. Unfortunately users outside these territories will be unable to access this content.’

    Now, you don’t need me to point out that – for most of the diaspora – the internet provides a primary link with Ireland. How are we supposed to see your presentation of your ideas (and subsequently buy your book) if we cannot access them online? After all, if we the diaspora can’t hear your ideas then the whole thing is a non-starter.

    Perhaps you or RTE (or whoever the ‘rights-holder bodies’ may be) would rather we were given no choice but to pay upwards of €20 for a DVD recording of what our fellow countrymen can access for 42 cents (the daily cost of a licence fee). Or perhaps they believe we may not purchase the DVD once we’ve seen the show? I saw The Pope’s Children before I bought the DVD and passed it around my fellow ex-pats some of whom subsequently bought it themselves.

    Say it ain’t so David.

    RTE states that it is…
    ‘a Public Service Broadcaster, a non-profit making organisation owned by the Irish people.’

    Who wants to buy my share?

  33. David Mc Williams

    Hi JJ, I can’t understand the logic of this rte decision. I’m not putting out a DVD of the show explicitly because I want the content to go out free. I’m trying to sort it out so bear with me. Regards, David

  34. Great article. on the question of the streaming if you can re-route your proxy to an Irish one. You can watch it. However of course that would probably be illegal and no one would do it.

  35. [...] series was broadcast to coincide with — and promote — McWilliams new book, The Generation Game. Extracts from the book are published on his website, and this is where his theories of nation and migration get rather [...]

  36. Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

    Yeah, great idea. We really do more suburbs and housing estates, don’t we? It might “liberate” from the last vestiges of the embarrassing agrarian ideal that the Irish diaspora, starry-eyed fools, still associate with Ireland. But some things are more important than GNP and preserving what’s left of our countryside is one of them. Think again.

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