Like I was saying on Twitter the other night, there is something grim, nay thoroughly disgusting, about the wheeze concocted at a captains-of-industry circle jerk at Farmleigh last year: I refer to the proposed issuing of a ‘certificate of Irishness’.
Some speakers at last year’s forum were critical of the disconnection between Ireland and members of the diaspora, particularly those unable to qualify for citizenship by virtue of having a parent or grandparent born in Ireland. The forum also highlighted the role the emigrant network could play in helping Ireland improve its economic fortunes.
Mr Martin said the Government had taken a broad and inclusive approach to defining Ireland’s global community. “The Irish diaspora is not limited to Irish citizens living abroad or to those who have activated citizenship. Instead, it encompasses all those who believe they are of Irish descent and feel a sense of affinity with this country.”
The reach, power and influence of many members of the diaspora can provide Ireland with an important competitive edge, he pointed out.
Note how ‘diaspora’ is used uncritically both by the reporter and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as though this term referred to a mere fact of nature.
But what is the diaspora? Ask someone at random waiting for a bus and they’ll most likely tell you that it is a group of people whose ancestors, or they themselves, were born in Ireland but now reside somewhere outside Ireland’s territory. They might also narrate the historical circumstances that resulted in the creation of this diaspora: famine, deprivation, unemployment. The diaspora, then, exists as a product of blood relation.
The maintenance of the diaspora, it follows, is the maintenance of historical memory and, as a consequence, moral obligation to blood relations. Blut ist dicker als Wasser, as the German proverb claimed.
How might membership of the diaspora be determined? Is it for people with a blood relation to people simply born on the island of Ireland? Or is it for people with a blood relation to someone entitled to Irish citizenship? Remember, not everyone born on the island of Ireland is entitled to Irish citizenship.
Last night I held a newborn baby in my arms who was born in a hospital here in Ireland. It is surprising how much you forget about newborn babies when you haven’t been in contact with one for a while – in my case, two and a half years. When you witness how vulnerable they are, and utterly dependent they are on the constant care of adults for food, protection and comfort, they are bloody terrifying.
Since neither of his parents are Irish citizens, he is not entitled to be an Irish citizen ‘unless one of his parents has been resident in the island of Ireland for a period of not less than three years or period the aggregate of which is not less than three years’, as the government note on ‘Entitlement to Irish citizenship of persons born to certain non – nationals‘ politely puts it.
Now, as it happens, both of his parents have been resident in the island of Ireland for a period of more than three years, so he is entitled to Irish citizenship. In so far as Irish citizenship accords certain privileges, lucky him, I suppose.
But let’s say there was another baby born in the same ward, neither of his parents are Irish citizens, and neither of them has been resident for three years, but both of them have been resident for two years, 11 months and 27 days. In this case, the institutions of state will determine that he shall not be entitled to be an Irish citizen. Bad luck, little chap: the constitution says you may not be excluded from citizenship by reason of your sex. But your parents, well, that’s another matter entirely. Frankly, I blame them for their failure to meet the necessary racial-biological criteria. Look on the bright side though: you are absolved of the fundamental political duties of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State. Hope it all works out for you.
Now, let’s stick with the latter baby. Suppose he and his parents leave the country -on account of some enacted injustice, let’s say deportation or forced emigration through unemployment- will he be considered part of the diaspora? Will he at some point in the future be able to apply for a certificate of Irishness from the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to display in his home? Leaving aside the fact that he is unlikely to feel too much of a sense of affinity with a country where he was refused citizenship, it looks as though it the Department of Foreign Affairs will not look kindly on his belief that he is of Irish descent because it has already been established that according to their racial-biological criteria he clearly is not. Although, he may still be part of the Irish nation, strangely enough. So there may be hope yet.
Can you see where this is going? The idea of the Irish ‘diaspora’ depends from the concept of an Irish race (and also an Irish homeland) enacted and protected by the institutions of State.
My little hypothetical administrative detour demonstrates that this racism often operates on a solidly arbitrary basis (why three years and not two and a half?). However, state racism is rarely, if ever, a matter of black and white. Mark Mazower’s Hitler’s Empire gives a good account of the administrative and adjudicative difficulties encountered by Nazi functionaries in identifying ethnic Germans as distinct from the rest of the population during the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe.
So what is on the surface a tacky but fairly inocuous money-spinning exercise to fill state coffers reveals, on examination, the appeal of blood-and-soil associations to elite groups, and the readiness of the Irish government to build on racist legislation to attract inward investment as a means of sustaining the Irish race.
One effect of this -the solidifying of the idea of the Irish race in the general consciousness (commonly but euphemistically known as ‘the Irish people’)- will be a gathering momentum to narrow to an even greater degree the entitlements of non-citizens. At the same time, the rest of the population will be subjected to exaltations of the Irish genius and endless obsessions about who and what is really Irish, moving ever more explicitly into the elaboration of racist forms of control and segregation. Consider this, from the Irish Times poll on whether the Certificate of Irishness is a good idea:
Firstly the Department of Foreign Affairs asserts that the idea is “not designed with the intention of raising significant amounts of revenue” – maybe, but it is certainly hoped to which is an unwritten target I suspect. Secondly, the idea “encompasses all those who believe they are of Irish descent and feel a sense of affinity with this country”. Believe? Sense of affinity? One would expect a Certificate of Irishness to be based on birth and baptism records and DNA evidence, not mere “believe” and “affinity”.
And consider also, strikingly, a proposal to enact a Law of Return as in Israel, on the Irish Times letters page today:
The Global Irish Economic
Forum where this idea originated showed that many Irish-Americans are
not pleased at the way their Irish ancestry is ignored by the Irish
State. We should be focusing on truly appreciating and nurturing this
relationship like other states do. The Israeli state offers extensive
rights to the Jewish diaspora through the Aliyah, or law of return, to
achieve citizenship and has reaped significant social and economic
benefits in return.
Given that so many of the Irish diaspora were
driven from this country due to poverty, hunger, or fighting for Irish
freedom, do we not owe their descendants a “law of return” to their
homeland? It is not as if there are no empty houses or space in which to
accommodate them. The creation of such a right would lead to a greater
strengthening of the Irish identity and Irish-American relations as we
would begin to reverse the injustices that caused so many to leave and
provide a real and valued gift to Irish-Americans after all they have
done for the Irish State.
It should be recognised, as an element of the assembled élite’s concern with elaborating on the Irish diaspora, that many of the assembled in Farmleigh come from the pinnacle of corporate culture in which the uniqueness of belonging to a corporation’s workforce is exalted. A worker is one of ‘our people’, even part of ‘one big family’. These designations occur in the absence of any real rights for workers and in the face of mammoth inequalities in pay between the executive caste and the rest.
It is hardly a source of wonder, then, the current Irish government should seize on the assembled bigwig concerns about the ‘Irish diaspora’ and act accordingly. It’s in their DNA to do so.