Ireland’s special relationship falling into disuse..?

A couple of years ago, I floated a few ideas about what Ireland might do with the considerable social capital it had built up through the years of our ubiquitous Peace Process™. Whatever the practicality of the Green focus of the argument there, the idea was, at base, about getting one of the smartest arms of government (the department of Foreign Affairs) to think smartly about how it might engage the interests of larger world players in an increasingly multilateral world. Yet it sounds like the latest thinking to to emerge from the Irish Embassy in Washington has not impressed Niall Stanage over at CIF

…the dissolution of Irish immigrants and their descendants into the American melting pot has meant that that old-style ethnic Irish politicians teeter on the brink of extinction, and those who propagate the myth of a crucial Irish-American vote – as a cadre of Hillary-supporting New York Irish activists did during last year’s primary – are exposed the moment reality strikes.

Irish America has not only been weakened by assimilation. As recently as the 1980s, it could look to new arrivals from the homeland as a source of rejuvenation. But the old patterns of immigration were reversed during Ireland’s boom years. Between 2001 and 2007, according to Ireland’s central statistics office, more people moved from the US to Ireland than vice-versa. The Celtic Tiger may have expired, but the equally parlous state of the US economy suggests that no new tidal wave of Irish immigrants is likely.

Official Ireland has slowly come to acknowledge that the relationship is changing. But it doesn’t seem to have any real idea what to do about it. Cowen last year asked the Irish Embassy in Washington to carry out a strategic review of the relationship between the two countries. Launched with much fanfare on Sunday night, the report (apparently still unavailable online) reads like a caricature of lazy diplomatic thinking. Full of noble-sounding but gaseous sentiments, its main concrete recommendations were that the diplomats themselves should get a nice new embassy and an increase in personnel.

It would be churlish to deny that the US and Ireland have a special historic relationship, rooted in the mass emigrations of the mid-19th century. But that relationship is of negligible and ever-declining contemporary relevance. All the shamrock in the world will not change that hard reality.


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