Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Joe McHugh T.D., gave the keynote address to the Golden Bridges Conference in Boston yesterday.
In his address, the Minister explored the rich connections that Ireland and Boston share, including the regional links that have been developed between Massachusetts and North-West Ireland.
The Minister spoke of the significant regional developments in the establishment of local government structures in the North-West of Ireland which have been supported by the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive through the Fresh Start Agreement.
Speaking at the conference, Minister of State McHugh said:
“These new partnership structures developed by Donegal and Derry City and Strabane District Councils will aim to foster a new relationship with both Dublin and Belfast and deliver real benefit for all citizens. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, represented the Irish Government at the Talks that led to the Fresh Start Agreement in November 2015 and committed to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to establish a North West Development Fund to assist the work of the Councils.”
“The Irish Government has already allocated €2.5 million to the Fund and I am hopeful that the Northern Ireland Executive will provide its match funding very soon and the Fund can begin to develop proposals to realise the full potential of the North West region.”
The Minister also emphasised how pressing issues impacting on Irish communities can be best addressed in close partnership with members of the Irish diaspora. The Government is committed to facilitating their important contribution through its Diaspora Policy – Global Irish.
During his visit to the Boston Minister McHugh also took the opportunity to meet with the Irish American community, exploring how best to harness community links and build ever greater ties between the State of Massachusetts and Ireland. The Minister also met with the Mayor of Boston Martin Walsh and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. The Minister used these meetings to raise the important issue of immigration reform:
“Availing of all opportunities to raise the issue of immigration reform with influential figures in the US, I pressed upon Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker the plight of the undocumented Irish, many of whom live in the Boston area, stressing the priority the Government attaches to this issue and our two-pronged approach of seeking to regularise the undocumented while also pursuing a dedicated quota for legal immigration from Ireland.”
Over the course of his visit the Minister also met a number of key Irish community organisations supported by the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, including the Irish Cultural Center of New England, the Irish Pastoral Center and the Irish International Immigration Center. The Minister acknowledged the difference that Government support, with the assistance of the Consulate of Ireland in Boston, had made to the diaspora community in the city stating:
“The Emigrant Support Programme, as we see here, has made a substantive difference to the lives of the Irish communities overseas, enhancing their welfare and wellbeing, connecting them with their cultural heritage and supporting and sustaining support networks, including our business networks. Since its inception in 2004, the Programme has provided over €138 million to over 220 organisations in 27 countries.”
Minister McHugh was also guest of honour at the Annual American Ireland Fund’s Boston Gala and held meetings with Worchester University aimed at extending and strengthening cooperation between third level institutions in Ireland and in Massachusetts. In advance of his visit to Kenya at the end of November, the Minister also met with the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Programme to discuss conflict resolution and related issues.