Ciarán Cannon T.D., Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora and International Development, spent two intensive days in town last month meeting with Irish groups here. We spoke on his visit to the Irish Pastoral Centre in Dorchester.
Q. What’s the purpose of your visit?
A. The predominant purpose is to engage extensively with the Irish communities here, with a view toward hearing their opinion on Ireland’s diaspora engagement strategy. There are 33 million people of Irish descent living in the US and I try to get out to all of those communities as often as I can.
We’re reviewing our international policy in Dublin at the moment; it is exceptionally important to talk to all of the groups that we support here in the US. We spent just over $4 million supporting Irish diaspora organizations across the country. We want to increase our support over the coming years and ensure that it has the maximum possible benefit for those communities. So what better way to do that then come out here and meet with them?
We had just under 30 Irish community organizations down in Canton [at the Irish Cultural Centre] yesterday, and had a great conversation about how we do this job and how we can do it well in the future. So that’s a really important element of my visit this week.
Q. You spoke about a program for young people called Foróige. How does that work?
A. The Irish immigration pipeline into the United States has more or less shut down after vast numbers in the millions [emigrated] to the US over the last century and a half. We’ll never see those numbers ever again; that day is over. Irish Americans are doing their best to sustain an interest in Irish culture, identity, and values across all of the United States and doing a great job at it. We want to support them and ensure that the next generation of Irish Americans stay in that attachment to Ireland.
There’s an youth organization called Foróige [foroige.ie] working in Ireland, empowering young people 14 to 18 with the skills to build strong, successful communities within Ireland. So we’re taking that model of Irish community work to the United States.
The first presence of Foróige in Philadelphia happened about a year ago, and in New York about six months ago. I was encouraging the group yesterday to consider doing something similar themselves because then you’ll have young Irish Americans being given the skills to build strong, resilient communities no matter where they live in the United States – with an Irish organization, Irish values, and a strong Irish culture identity. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
Q. What is the status of Ireland’s efforts to win a seat on the UN Security Council?
A. Ireland has put herself forward as a candidate for the Security Council elections in June of next year. This is the most powerful institution on the planet in terms of peace and security and Ireland wants to have a seat at the table when discussions and decisions are being made about how exactly we approach peace and security and conflict avoidance and resolution across the world. Ireland has hugely significant experience to bring to bear in that conversation in terms of securing peace on our island and sustaining that piece now for 20 years. We just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement last year. Our soldiers have been a constant provider of peacekeeping around the world for every single day of the last 60 years.
We also are a people who have a very long tradition of immigration and migration, and we have a collective national memory of famine. … So we want to bring all of that understanding and empathy to bear in terms our membership of the Security Council.
Q. In addition to your career in politics, you’re also a musician?
A. I compose music. I have been playing piano since I was ten; that’s something that I love. My dad was a musician, his dad was a musician, so it’s in our blood, and it’s something that I really enjoy in terms of an alternative to the hustle and bustle of political life.