By Ed Forry
When the Irish government underwent a transfer in power last winter with the removal of Brian Cowen’s Fianna Fáil party and the installation of Fine Gael ‘s Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, there followed, predictably, major changes in policy initiatives. But one foreign affairs initiative that would connect Ireland with the diaspora around the world has survived: The Irish government will soon begin offering an official government document to persons who claim some Irish ancestry.
“’The Certificate of Irish Heritage’ will give official recognition to the many people worldwide who are conscious of their Irish heritage and feel a strong affinity for Ireland,” Ireland’s Fine Gael Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade Eamon Gilmore said in a statement earlier this year. “It will not, however, confer any citizenship or other legal rights or entitlements to the successful applicants.”
The Irish government estimates there are 70 million persons worldwide who can claim one or more ancestors born in Ireland. Currently, Americans and other non-native Irish can apply for Irish citizenship and claim an Irish passport if they can establish that a parent or grandparent was born in Ireland.
Minister Gilmore said the scheme, announced last year by former Fianna Fáil foreign minister Michael Martin, was established in anticipation of a strong demand from the worldwide Irish disapora who are not entitled to Irish citizenship.” “I believe that the scheme will provide a practical demonstration of the inclusive approach adopted by successive Governments to our diaspora.”
The government has contracted with a private company, FEXCO Business Services, based in Killorgin, Co. Kerry, to design and implement the program, Last month, Fexco product manager Karl Elliston and IT manager Rachael Coffey spent a day in Boston and briefed representatives on the program. The informational session, hosted at the Ireland Consulate offices in Copley Square, was attended by members of several local Irish organizations, including the Eire Society, Irish Cultural Centre, Irish Pastoral Centre, and TIARA- the Irish Ancestral Research association.
Elliston explained that initially the 11 x 14 certificates would be produced in a choice of three designs: simple Celtic, Irish art, and Celtic calligraphy and art. Each would carry the applicant’s name and one or two ancestor names, the State Harp pressed in gold foil, a quote from Article 2 of the Irish Constitution, and the minister’s signature.
He said applicants must demonstrate an ancestral link to the island of Ireland, including knowing the name of an ancestor, providing one linking document to that person, and the names of each person in the line of descent. If supporting documents cannot be provided, the company will accept a sworn affidavit, he said.
Elliston told the Boston gathering the certificate “carries no legal obligation on the state. It is not a steppingstone to citizenship,” he stated. Applicants must “demonstrate a link, not prove,” he said. Applicants must be 18 or older, and Irish passport holders are not eligible to apply.
Elliston said the current plans anticipate the formal da three-day Dublin conference in early October. The cost is expected to be 40 euros ($57.60.) Applications will be accepted online or through postal mail, and the company estimates certificates will be printed and dispatched within ten days of validation.
(FEXCO is an Irish-based financial services company, established in 1981 by Brian McCarthy to provide Bureau de change services to the Irish market. The company’s head office is in Killorglin, Co. Kerry. FEXCO employs 1,600 staff, with 900 based in Ireland and 700 overseas, principally in the UK, Asia and Austraklia. McCarthy is a director of American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and chairman of the Irish Prisons Board. Former Tánaiste Dick Spring is the executive vice chair of FEXCO.)