What sort of relationship does Ireland want with its diaspora?

The Irish Times have commissioned a poll of emigrants on a range of issues. I can imagine it was a bit of a nightmare to put together and find a representative sample (presumably of southerners)… It shows up a couple of things you might expect, and which I think could constitute some interesting building blocks for future engagement.. Not least the importance of new media like Facebook and Skype in replacing the traditional letter as a chosen medium…

Marc Scully runs works for a fascinating sounding project on the effect of various diasporas on the making of Britain at Leicester University… He sort of hints at an underlying structural problem which is almost impossible to chart by survey at this early stage of this particular exodus of Irish youth:

Well-documented problems for emigrants after coming back have included difficulties in accessing social welfare and lack of recognition of civil partnerships, although legislation for the latter has recently been introduced. Such issues have been used to argue for voting rights for emigrants.

The barriers to reintegration for returning emigrants can be psychological as well as material. My own research, as well as that of Caitríona Ní Laoire and Deirdre Conlon, has illustrated the sense for many returned emigrants of feeling like outsiders, with being viewed as “different” in workplaces emerging as a common theme.

In the case of my own research, which was carried out in England, this discomfort with “settling back” was such that the people I spoke to took the opportunity to leave Ireland again when it arose.

Traditionally (well, actually only really since the Irish famine) emigration was seen as a safety valve, drawing children off hard pressed agricultural land and into cities in other countries (there’s the same amount of Irish rural resettlement you see with other European populations after the famine)… But today’s well educated Irish migrants are able to make much more deliberate choices about what they do when they travel away.

In economic terms they are much more valuable than their ancestors many of whom had few expectations of seeing home ever again. The quality of relationship that can be sustained through new media is phenomenal higher than the old letter, or telegram. That begs the question: what kind of relationship does Ireland want with its ambitious and largely successful diaspora? Not necessarily the old double edged question of when are ye coming home? (You know we’ve no room for ye.)

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty