Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 8 May 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Second Global Irish Economic Forum: Discussion with Department of Foreign Affairs
We will continue the meeting with a discussion on two very important topics, the second Global Irish Economic Forum and the undocumented Irish in the US. It is an appropriate time to discuss this with external action unit.
To assist in the consideration of these matters, we are joined by Mr. Niall Burgess, director general of the Anglo-Irish division in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Joe Hackett, director, Irish abroad unit, and Mr. Karl Gardner, deputy director, Irish abroad unit. They are all very welcome.
The second Global Irish Economic Forum was held in October 2011. It provided an opportunity for members of the Government, along with Ministers of State, representatives of the Opposition, senior officials from Government Departments and State agencies and leading members of the Irish business and cultural sectors to meet directly with many of the most influential members of the Irish diaspora and discuss Ireland's priorities for economic renewal, job creation and the restoration of Ireland's reputation abroad.
When this committee met the Tánaiste after St. Patrick's Day 2012 to review the progress of the forum, he told us that to be successful the forum must be able to demonstrate its contribution towards Ireland's economic regeneration. We look forward to hearing today what progress has be made on the key outcomes and what remains to be done.
The more than 300 members of the global Irish network who are valuable partners in the Global Irish Economic Forum are just one part of the story of the Irish diaspora. It is very important that we continue to prioritise the plight of the many undocumented Irish in the US. Their status leaves them in a legal limbo which affects their lives in many ways, whether it is their ability to get secure employment or travel home for family funerals. Addressing this issue and reforming our migration arrangements with the US are important priorities for the Government, and I am sure members of the committee will be interested to know what work is progressing, that is, what is being done by the Irish abroad unit and our embassies and what is happening in Washington, in particular the immigration reform Bill in the US Senate.
Before I invite the witnesses to make their presentation, I advise them that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of utterances at this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease making remarks on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their remarks. They are directed that only comments or evidence in regard to the subject matter of this meeting are to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, a person outside the Houses or an official in such a way as to identify him or her.
I call on Mr. Burgess to make his presentation. I apologise; there is a vote in the Seanad, but I am sure members will return.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I thank the Chairman. I am pleased to appear before the committee this afternoon to discuss the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and embassies and consulates abroad in support of Irish emigrants, and more broadly, in engaging with the Irish diaspora. I will focus my initial comments on current issues facing the Irish abroad, in particular the undocumented in the US and on the follow up to the last Global Irish Economic Forum. Much of this work is co-ordinated by our Irish abroad unit and I am joined today by my colleagues Mr. Joe Hackett, director of the unit, and Mr. Karl Gardner, the deputy director.
It is fair to say that for as long as Ireland has had a diplomatic network, the Department and its network of missions have always worked closely with Irish communities abroad. This work took on an even closer and more practical character following the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants in 2002. This report led to the establishment in 2004 of a dedicated unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Irish abroad unit, whose task was to help address the needs of our most vulnerable emigrants and to provide policy support to the Government's engagement with the diaspora. Since then, the unit has been fortunate in the strong bipartisan support and assistance it has received from the Oireachtas and this committee.
Members will be aware that globalisation and communications technology has changed, in a significant way, the nature of the debate surrounding diaspora engagement. From a position whereby our people abroad were considered as distant and separated, international discussion now revolves around building mutually beneficial partnerships with these communities, which help to support a strong connection by addressing the needs of those communities in their new homes, and also by drawing more actively on their knowledge, experience and goodwill.
Ireland is not alone in this objective. Other countries, such China, India and Singapore, devote increasing thought and resources to harnessing the potential of their diasporas. I am pleased to say, however, that Ireland has remained to the forefront of this work. Whether in delivering peace in Northern Ireland, spurring economic development, raising awareness of our culture or creating a positive brand in their adopted homes, we are fortunate to possess a global Irish presence which makes an ever more valuable contribution to Ireland.
Today, our diaspora engagement policy has two key strands. First, through the emigrant support programme, we work with almost 200 Irish community organisations in over 20 countries to provide support to Irish emigrants. Since 2004, Irish groups ranging from those providing front-line services to those most at need, including the elderly, isolated, vulnerable and new arrivals to those working in the culture and heritage space have received grants of over €100 million.
In line with recommendations made by this committee, we are engaging with communities which are receiving larger numbers of new emigrants such as those in Australia and Canada. In Canada, we support the new Irish Canadian Immigration Centre in Toronto, while in Australia, the main welfare bureaux in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all secured additional funding in 2012.
Our embassies in Canberra and Ottawa are also working to provide support to new communities in more distant centres in Western Australia and western Canada. Indeed, projects aimed at supporting the needs of new emigrants are a very specific focus of the 2013 programme, which has just closed.
Immigration reform is an issue affecting the welfare of many Irish people living in the United States. We are keenly aware of the strong interest of this committee in the situation facing the undocumented Irish in that country and are appreciative of efforts by the Chairman and members in support of these people's plight, particularly during their visits to the United States. A resolution of this matter has long been a priority for the Government in its ongoing contacts with the United States Administration and Congress. The Government has also attached great importance to providing for future flows of migration between Ireland and the United States through the extension of the so-called E3 visa scheme to include Irish citizens.
In this context, we very much welcome the recent publication of the United States Senate Bill 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill , which provides for reform of the immigration system. This legislation, which was drafted over several months by a bipartisan group of eight Senators, includes provisions that would help to resolve the plight of thousands of undocumented Irish people who are living illegally in the United States. It also provides for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the United States. Its provisions, if adopted, would help to end the great hardship and uncertainty faced by undocumented Irish in the United States and their families here in Ireland. The inclusion of a new provision to allow several thousand Irish citizens to avail of legal employment opportunities every year is particularly welcome.
Both of these issues were a key focus of the ongoing contacts undertaken by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste with political leaders in the United States, particularly during their visit to Washington DC in the week of St. Patrick's Day when they discussed the prospects for progress with Ireland's key friends on Capitol Hill and in the Administration. The Government has maintained close contact with the key players through our Embassy in Washington since the publication of the Bill. The issues involved are complex and sensitive ones within the United States political system and much further debate is likely to be required before the final shape of any agreed legislation becomes clear. The Tánaiste and Ambassador Collins and his team in Washington will continue to work towards securing a solution for the undocumented. We are again fortunate to be supported in this work by several Irish community organisations, including the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
The second element of our policy is focused around the work of the Global Irish Network, a group of more than 300 of the most influential Irish-connected business figures drawn from almost 40 countries. Established after the first Farmleigh forum, the network provides invaluable advice, facilitation and practical assistance to the Government and Irish companies. As I said, we are very fortunate that we can call upon the reservoir of goodwill, expertise and support that exists among our diaspora. In October 2011 we saw a powerful demonstration of this commitment when 270 members of the Global Irish Network travelled, at their own expense, to the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle. This ambitious event built upon the initial forum convened at Farmleigh in 2009. As the Chairman will be aware, having participated in the forum at Dublin Castle, the members of the Global Irish Network are deeply committed to making a practical contribution to this country's recovery and further development.
The outcomes of the forum provide tangible evidence of the benefits to be gained by engaging with our overseas communities. At this stage all the key outcomes have been completed or significantly progressed. For example, as a direct result of the forum more than 320,000 additional tourists are expected to visit Ireland this year through The Gathering. Network members have acted as ambassadors for The Gathering initiative and several have organised significant events in Ireland as part of that initiative. In the area of job creation we have worked through investment events in New York and Dublin to target new sources of foreign direct investment. Since its launch in March 2012, more than 6,280 people have registered with ConnectIreland and 800 companies have been suggested to it by people from across the world. Fifty of those companies are now in advanced discussions regarding locating in Ireland.
In the area of education and training, the Farmleigh Fellowship will provide 100 Irish graduates with Asian experience over the 2010-2015 period. There has also been support for Irish small and medium-sized enterprises, with more than 100 participants signing up to the Global Irish Contacts programme, which directly links the diaspora with Irish companies looking to achieve international growth. The programme now has expertise in 32 markets across 14 sectors and facilitated 70 engagements in 2012, including in Korea, Singapore and the United States. Engagements have continued this year in areas such as one-to-one mentoring and advice, market and sector briefings, trade missions, sectoral events and investments. Our SME sector policy has also been positively shaped by advice provided at the forum. Members welcomed the introduction of the temporary partial credit guarantee scheme and micro-finance fund and the appointment of successful entrepreneurs as international start-up ambassadors.
The development of the Global Irish Network is helping to shape a forward-looking, strategic relationship between Ireland and our diaspora and has facilitated individuals taking on specific projects. For instance, my colleague at the Anglo-Irish division, Mr. Sean O'Driscoll, is working closely with our Embassy and State agencies to enhance our relationship with Japan. Last year Mr. Irial Finan of Coca-Cola organised an Invest in Ireland round-table conference in Dublin to coincide with the Navy versus Notre Dame football match.
The Tánaiste has decided to convene a third Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle on 4 and 5 October. The overall focus of the forum will be job creation and, in line with the views of the membership, the emphasis will be on four specific issues, namely, overcoming the challenges facing the domestic economy, with particular emphasis on tackling youth unemployment; financial services and public financing; technology; and education, with particular emphasis on higher education. While the format and programme remain to be finalised, the forum will include several new elements including direct engagement between the forum and the Irish SME sector, greater involvement of the third level sector and greater participation by network members in developing and facilitating discussions during the forum.
I hope I have provided a useful overview of some of the work undertaken with and in support of the Irish abroad by the Department. I and my colleagues will be happy to answer any questions members have.
Thank you, Mr. Burgess. We will deal first with the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States. I understand that the amendments to the Senate Bill to which Mr. Burgess referred are being published today and will be discussed tomorrow by Senator Patrick Leahy's committee. It is also my understanding that the House of Representatives intends to publish a Bill on the issue. These efforts represent the last hope for the undocumented Irish in the United States. How confident are Ambassador Collins and his team in Washington that the Democrats and Republicans will reach an agreement on legislative proposals in both the Senate and the House of Representatives?
I now invite questions from members, beginning with Deputy Brendan Smith.
I welcome Mr. Burgess and his colleagues. I take this opportunity to thank the staff in our various embassies and consulates, particularly in the United States, with whom we often have to intervene on behalf of constituents. Only last weekend I was in contact with officials in the New York consulate and I very much appreciate their assistance.
Is there any likely timeframe for the implementation of the proposed immigration reform initiative? Will Mr. Burgess elaborate on the provisions and scope of the E3 visa application scheme?
In the wake of the Boston bombings, certain high-ranking politicians in the United States have called for a halt to immigration reform. Is Mr. Burgess concerned that this event could potentially have a substantial negative impact on the plans to legislate for a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants? Mr. Burgess may be aware that an all-party Oireachtas group has been set up to co-ordinate efforts on this issue.
It was established previously and fell by the wayside. Reference was made to the importance of a bipartisan approach to this issue. How important is that when trying to sell the Bill in the US?
I refer to undocumented migrants in Ireland. Does the Department have numbers in this regard? How many undocumented Americans live in Ireland? Would it be helpful if we adopted legislation to address these people?
One of the criticisms is that we have not used positive events such as St. Patrick's Day to open up to many of the people who are key to immigration reform. Some of them would not necessarily be friends of Ireland. How can we use events such as that in the future to bring them closer to the Irish position or to even create an opportunity to explain our position on immigration reform?
Sometimes we run away with ourselves and think that the undocumented Irish are the at the centre of the immigration debate. Where do Ireland's illegals rank in the debate on the upcoming legislation vis-à-vis Hispanic illegals, for example? I am trying to get a handle on this. From the American perspective, is it an Irish issue or is it a much wider international issue? The Chechens were legally resident. Will there much of a backlash in the debate because of that terrorist attack?
I apologise for being late. I had to attend the House where one of my parliamentary questions was being taken and attend another committee.
I have strong views on the vulnerability of undocumented immigrants. I have dealt with a number of people, as we all have, from other jurisdictions who were undocumented in this State but who thought they were documented. They came here on foot of work permits, for example, from non-EU locations and their status should have been updated or upgraded but was not. Eight to ten years later, they found that they did not have legal status and they were in the country illegally. There are serious questions about their welfare, the way they were treated and the tendency for them to be exploited.
This is also a difficulty in the US. I visited the country in a former capacity and met the immigrants associations to hear their concerns and worries. Like my colleagues, I believe there cannot be an Irish solution to an Irish problem. This is not how this works. We must have an immigration policy and an understanding of each other's position on immigration. I acknowledge the US is in a difficult position with its next door neighbour having a huge population and there being a huge antipathy among its own population towards Mexicans, legal and illegal, which I have read about and studied for a long time. I hope it might be possible to work out a general arrangement through which, first, a staggered amnesty might be offered to those who have been there for a long time because the issue will not get better as time goes by and, second, to regularise what has been happening. There are many social reasons people want to move to a better economy but human rights issue also arise from time to time that we are not always aware of but should be.
I welcome the officials. The undocumented Irish issue has been in the mix for a long time since the Kennedy-McCain initiative. Like the peace process, all the stars and elements need to be aligned for it to work. Everything must be in the right place at the right time with the right people involved. Now is the time for this to happen but that does not necessarily mean it will be successful.
I refer the issue of those who were deported since the proposed cut-off date of 30 December 2011. Anyone who entered the US illegally after that date will not be eligible to participate in the new application process and a pathway to legal status. Is the Government seeking to ensure that those resident illegally in the US prior to that date can apply for their pathway even if they were deported? Unlike the other 12 million people who did not happen to get caught in the intervening period, will there be a process whereby those who were unfortunate enough to be caught and deported can apply for a pathway to citizenship?
The US Government has offered a future flow of visas on a number of occasions. For Ireland to secure a future flow of US visas, we need to offer a reciprocal arrangement for US citizens who want to live in Ireland who, as members will be aware, find it difficult to obtain right to residency here. What are the officials' views on that? They are dealing with the issue day in, day out. What is their sense of how this will play out? What timeline do they envisage? Could a deal be in place by Christmas?
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I will deal with the first question the Chairman asked, which brings in some of the other issues raises, and I will go back then to see if I have left anything out. He asked about the degree of hope and optimism felt by embassy staff in Washington that the process will lead to a successful conclusion both for the undocumented and for the future flow of visas. Everyone acknowledges that there are very good grounds for optimism this time around. That rests on a number of factors. The first is that this Bill has been carefully crafted on a bipartisan basis in the US Senate and is sponsored by four Democrats - Chuck Shumer, Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez and Michael Bennet - and four Republicans - John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake. We also know that there is broad support among figures in the Republican Party for immigration reform. There is a debate going on in the party about the need for it to embrace the immigrant community and to be seen to be supportive of that community. That is a good sign.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
The other factor goes back to the question of whose interests are at stake here. Is this about Irish immigrants, Mexican immigrants or something else? This is being carefully crafted as a Bill which deals with the United States own interests and it is also carefully balanced to deal with those who are concerned that immigration and border controls have been too lax for too long. For example, the Bill provides for 3,500 additional customs and border patrol agents and allows for a significant tightening up of border security.
There is something in the Bill for sceptics of immigration reform, and it responds to a very significant demand from US business for new labour flows into the US, and that is in the agricultural sector and also the high-tech sector, where there is a demand to bring in new talent from overseas. There is a carefully crafted balance in the Bill.
The implementation of the Bill is staggered, and Deputy Durkan referred to this. The route to legal status for those who are undocumented in the US is a long one. They would be entitled to apply for provisional status, initially. That would allow them to leave the US and come back. After a five or six year period they would be entitled to apply again, and after ten years they would be entitled to apply for a green card. After three years that green card would provide a route to citizenship. That is the path that would face undocumented Irish in the US. They would have to satisfy certain background checks and pay any taxes that would be owed. It is staggered over a period of time and that addresses some of the concerns that will be raised in both the Senate and the House of Representatives around not rewarding those who have broken the law. The fact that there is a significant business lobby in support of this is a good sign.
Once the Bill is in the public domain all sorts of issues will arise. There is considerable reticence in the House of Representatives and Senate around immigration reform. Significant voices are calling for a piecemeal approach rather than one major approach to immigration reform. There are those, particularly on the Republican side, who would like to see border controls tightened up before a route to citizenship was provided for those who were undocumented in the US. There are those in the business lobby who feel that their needs are insufficiently met. There are those who have raised child protection issues for undocumented parents facing deportation and the fact that this is not included in the Bill. There are those, US Senator Rand Paul for example, who have raised the Boston bombings issue and the fact that the two people involved in that were illegal immigrants. He has called for a delay so that any possible implications for the new Bill arising from the Boston bombing experience are taken account of. All of these issues will undoubtedly surface in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
On the actual process that we anticipate, the Bill has had preliminary hearings. It will have its first mark-up examination by the Senate judiciary committee tomorrow. The Senate majority leader Senator Harry Reid has signalled his intention to bring it to the floor of the Senate in June. We expect that there will also be House of Representatives proposals. They will certainly be different from the proposals in the Senate and if all proceeds in a relatively smooth way we expect a Senate-House conference committee in late summer or early autumn. If that were approved it would probably still be close to the middle of next year by the time the regulations are in place and the new immigration schemes can be implemented.
The provision for up to 10,500 E3 visas for immigrants from Ireland is tucked away. It is not very prominent in the Bill. There are a number of additional elements and that is only one of very many. It is not highlighted or underlined in the Bill, but there is considerable support for it. Much of the work the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have been doing has been to try to ensure quiet support for this so that if and when it is raised on the floor of the House of Representatives or Senate, there will be those who stand by it and we will retain it in the Bill.
I do not have figures for the numbers of undocumented or of US citizens in Ireland, but the E3 visa scheme is designed as a reciprocal one in the same way as the Australian scheme is reciprocal. A similar path to work experience in Ireland for US citizens would be opened up in return. That is a very important part of the presentation of this when the time comes.
St. Patrick's Day was mentioned. In a way this moves forward to the discussion we are about to have. The planning of the St. Patrick's Day programmes is undertaken months ahead of the St. Patrick's Day visits and they are planned to maximise the opportunities for lobbying and political support, for example, when the Tánaiste was in Atlanta he had a number of meetings that he probably could not have had in Washington around the immigration Bill to secure support for it and that was the same for Ministers and Government representatives across the US.
Has any detailed analysis been done of the numbers of undocumented Irish in the US or is it guesstimates through the Irish pastoral care centres and various organisations that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supports? Have we any hard and fast figures we could go by in terms of how many are in each state or city? Various figures are thrown out from 10,000 to 50,000.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
Before I answer that let me answer the other question Senator Daly asked about the significance of the cut-off date of 31 December. That is a firm cut-off date. One needs to have been in the US continuously from 31 December 2011 or earlier. That has always been envisaged in a Bill such as this. The idea is to prevent a surge of illegal immigrants in the period immediately beforehand. As Senator Daly was speaking I had a look through our analysis of the Bill and I do not see that point specifically addressed but I expect the cut-off date will be maintained and enforced once the Bill is passed into law and once that law is embodied in regulations.
We have a variety of figures for the numbers of undocumented Irish in the US but none of them are reliable. There have been estimates made in different parts of the US. There have been some estimates for New York. A number of factors make it difficult to get a firm fix, one being the mobility of undocumented around the US. Another is the seasonal dimension of flows to and from the US. We have always taken the figure of 50,000 or lower as the approximate figure but we do not have a finer sense of that. This is something we may come to but we work with a number of Irish centres in the US and those centres have a clear sense of the numbers in their immediate communities but one of the features of recent immigration to the US has been that many recent immigrants are far more diffused across the US. We have been working to support Irish networks, a network of Irish networks for recent immigrants across the US. That went very quickly, over the space of the last two or three years, from three or four networks in the major cities to 14 networks across the US. It is indicative of the spread of recent immigrants around the US.
I welcome the fact that the third Global Economic Forum will be held in October. I also welcome the fact that there will be a major emphasis on job creation and the contribution of small and medium sized businesses, SMEs, and the need for assistance in increasing their business globally and facilitating international growth.
What is envisaged under the Farmleigh fellowships? I presume they are available for young Irish graduates in business and other specific disciplines who wish to assist companies in marketing in Asia and elsewhere. Is that correct?
We heard about the number of people moving to Canada and Australia. How many people are emigrating to those two countries? Emphasis was placed on the welcome growth in exports and the trade surplus. Contrary to perceived wisdom, the increase in exports has not been matched by a rise in employment. Given that the third Global Irish Economic Forum will specifically address the issue of employment, how can we maximise the value of exports to the economy? How can we better integrate foreign direct investment with Irish suppliers to assist the domestic economy? What do we need to do differently in this area?
We heard that The Gathering has the potential to increase tourist numbers by 320,000. The cost of travelling to Ireland is a cause for concern. Has any engagement taken place with airlines, ferry companies and so forth on prices? This appears to be one of the gaps in the strategy of The Gathering. While I am aware that some hoteliers have taken action in this regard, have specific discussions taken place with the companies that bring tourists to Ireland?
On a similar theme, namely, the need to build on what we have achieved thus far and increase our impact through the Global Irish Economic Forum, I have never seen as many tourists as I saw while visiting Prague in recent days. My only similar experience is coming out of Croke Park on the day of an all-Ireland final. The tourists in Prague were moving in waves. For some years, I have been raising the issue of tourism promotion through parliamentary questions. Ireland has a great and rich history and culture, which is of international interest, especially in the United States whose citizens visit this country in numbers. To what extent can we use the Global Irish Economic Forum as a means of advertising our rich history and culture and encouraging people to visit? Some of our archaeological sites date back 5,000 and 6,000 years. People flock to sites throughout Europe that are 2,000 or 3,000 years old. In my constituency, we have an example of a built structure - a round tower - that is more than 1,000 years old and has stood the test of time. It is a great example of what Irish people were able to do with little technology all those years ago, especially was we were not subject to the Gothic and Romanesque influences to which the countries of central Europe were subject, although we subsequently copied them. We should show these great examples of our culture, heritage and architecture to students, young people and visitors. The Gathering and Global Irish Economic Forum are major opportunities to present Ireland in a positive light.
If an additional 320,000 people were to visit Ireland this year, it would be a phenomenal success for The Gathering. I am interested in the scheme involving 100 Irish graduates with experience in Asia. While we are deriving great benefits from our relationship with the United States in terms of foreign direct investment, there are clearly other markets in the world. Irish people are travelling further afield, notably to China, Japan and other Asian countries. I am interested in ascertaining what is the intent behind the programme.
Is it fair to suggest that the third level education sector was neglected in the past, approaches made by third level institutions were not responded to and somebody has recently decided it would be appropriate to discuss the issue of education, students and third level exchanges? If this is an example of fresh thinking, it is to be welcomed. Figures are available which show the value to the economy of every overseas student. Not only are foreign governments funding the accommodation of students who come here to study, but they are also providing them with pocket money during their stay, which lasts for one or two years. Clearly, if one increases the number of overseas students studying here, one will add value. I ask the witnesses to comment.
Deputy Byrne makes an important point. We are currently recruiting abroad to meet some of the skills shortages in the technology sector, which appears to indicate a lack of foresight in our educational system. While I accept it is not easy to predict exactly where jobs will arise, a gap appears to have emerged in this regard. I hear much discussion and hype about The Gathering. While I admit it is a good initiative, it is also a transient one in that its benefits will be felt this year only, with perhaps a small spillover into next year arising from the advertising campaign. With one quarter of young people between the ages of 18 and 35 years unemployed, we clearly need a much more productive approach to the area of employment.
I note that a number of private equity companies are focusing on Ireland. These are primarily funds that wish to invest in property because they believe the sector will deliver significant profits in future arising from the property crash. While it is easy for the media to criticise many of the entrepreneurs who were involved in the construction industry, they provided a large number of jobs. Unfortunately, much of the profit that will be made from the depressed property market will be repatriated to other countries through the involvement of private equity companies. Some minor efforts appear to be under way to persuade private equity companies to put together enterprise funds to invest in small and medium-sized enterprises with a view to generating jobs and growth. Efforts to provide good mentoring and management can be as beneficial as financial supports. Donald Keough, the former chief executive of Coca Cola, was instrumental in the company's decision to invest in Ireland. He thought all the investment should be focused on Wexford, from where his ancestors came, and we now have a Coca Cola plant in the county.
I concede he is a good actor but recently we saw Tom Cruise coming across as genuinely chuffed by the fact of his Irish ancestry and genealogy. What are we doing within the Department to identify in different countries, in particular in the United States which is entrepreneurial, good executives whose career paths we can see as they get to the top of major corporations and whose Irish background we can identify for them? By the time they get here they will then have a certain grá and empathy for Ireland. In that way the commitment we have seen in the past will continue well into the future in the face of the considerable opposition we face from other countries for such mobile investment, in particular from the US and China.
The Global Irish Economic Forum was probably one of the best initiatives of both the previous Government and this Government in terms of our reaching out to our diaspora abroad. I will not go into all the questions involved but implementation is a concern I have always raised. Resources were not given to the Department of Foreign Affairs to do all that was laid down by the first and second global economic forums. I refer to interdepartmental committees. If the witnesses do not have the answers they might send them to the Chairman. There was an interdepartmental group and an advisory and implementation group for the Global Irish Network, for which the Tánaiste was responsible. How many times did it meet? It is very difficult to get different Departments together to move issues forward. The Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach was to examine the form of the outcome and make progress reports. How many times did that happen? Seed funding was one of the suggested outcomes, a good idea that was based on the experience of other countries such as Israel, which had microfinancing. How much money was given out in this area?
The Global Irish Economic Forum was a wonderful initiative. Many people from around the world were willing to come to Dublin and give their time and effort. In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has much to do already, was asked to do a monumental task, one for which Israel has its very own department. Our diaspora is larger than the Israeli one yet the Department of Foreign Affairs is obliged to do not only what a completely separate department in Israel does but also all the work of the Department must do on top of that. Given the situation in the North, a separate department is almost required to handle that as well.
It might be an idea if somebody was to benchmark what was promised two years ago and point out how many meetings there had been, even down to the updates. That was one of the suggestions that came from the Global Irish Economic Forum. Were those who came kept informed and told that in the past month such and such has happened? I do not believe anybody wants to get an e-mail every month but there should be one every two or three months outlining what progress there has been. My fear is that an excellent concept, one which the Department does very well in trying to administer, is simply under-resourced in terms of the manpower required to be able to meet all the requests made of it after the first two forums. If the Government does not properly resource the Department, if people do not see the outcomes they were hoping to achieve and are not kept informed, they may not come to the third or fourth forum. What was a great idea might then peter out.
I apologise for not being here for the presentation. Looking through the material, I see there are some significant figures and I very much welcome that there will be a third economic global forum on 4 and 5 October. I would like to comment on the remarks of Senator Daly on resourcing. Some 320,000 extra tourists are expected to visit Ireland this year. Are there early indications this will happen? I would like to see The Gathering initiative continued throughout the coming decade. We have set a rate for the next decade, featuring a good number of significant milestones in our history, and there will be considerable opportunities to attract people to Ireland on the basis of these significant anniversaries and centenaries. The forum will help to initiate job creation projects, but it will take time for some of them to come on stream. Tourism can have a much more significant and quick impact and it has a positive impact on economic activity.
I very much welcome that the third forum in October will focus on the challenges facing the domestic economy. Many of us around this table come from rural Ireland and we see the devastation in every small town throughout the country, with business closures and difficulties that have arisen for many small operators. The concept is positive. The more connections we can make with the Irish diaspora throughout the world, the better for the country. We have many very successful business people scattered throughout Ireland who are prepared to give willingly of their time, energy and resources to help the country. This was never more needed than it is now.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I will go through the issues more or less in the order in which they were raised. Deputy Crowe raised the question of numbers of emigrants to Canada and Australia. We have more detailed figures for these two countries than for the United States. For Australia, 25,827 working holiday visas were granted last year, with 645 Irish nationals granted a student visa. Some 4,500 Irish-born people became permanent residents of Australia through that country's skills programme. Canadian figures show 6,680 Irish people entering Canada as temporary foreign workers, with 5,350 entering under the working holiday programme. As members may know, there is a new extension and an expanded working visa scheme in Canada which, from granting 6,000 visas this year will increase to 10,000 visas next year. This year, all 6,000 visas were taken up quickly and we expect a full uptake next year as well. That gives a sense of the numbers for Canada and Australia.
A few points were made about The Gathering and I will take them together. Critical to the success of both The Gathering and the expansion our tourism take every year is access. That infrastructural point of access comes up repeatedly. For example, there are no direct flights to the west coast of the United States. Embassies are constantly active on this point but for the airlines the considerations are commercial and this sets a limit to what can be achieved. The Gathering seems to be delivering a significant increase in visitors but it is too soon to give any detail. Tourism Ireland figures show an increase in the region of 23% for the first quarter this year, but we must factor into that the fact that Easter fell in the first quarter. It is too soon to speak with any precision. The trend of visitors coming from Britain has been generally downward in recent years which is a big issue for Tourism Ireland to address. The legacy of The Gathering is under active consideration. Skills are being learned and developed as we go out and do something that has not been done before. These need to be deployed continually, however that may be done. I believe it will happen as we get closer to the end of the year.
Deputy Durkan spoke about the riches that exist at local level.
One of the significant things about The Gathering in terms of diaspora engagement is that it has brought that engagement down to a very strong local level. The Global Irish Network operates at a blue skies level, but local communities are now promoting what they have to offer and are also learning skills that need to be deployed into the future. The question of job creation came up, and I believe The Gathering is a very good example of an initiative that can deliver jobs right across the country, not all of them high skilled and not necessarily in the high-tech sector.
We were asked how we could maximise our exports in terms of job creation. That is something we want to discuss at the forum this year. The Global Irish Economic Forum and the Global Irish Network do not represent the answer to many of our most difficult economic problems, but they represent a willingness to listen, an openness to fresh ideas and a willingness to enter into a real dialogue with members of our diaspora. They bring a perspective and ideas that may not necessarily occur to us at home.
On our approach to the network, since the first network meeting in 2009, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been trying to do something in a structured way that we had not done in a very structured way previously. We are learning as we go. Each time there is a meeting of the Global Irish Economic Forum, we do it slightly differently. We acknowledge that upfront. I can identify some trends in how this has developed since the last forum. There has been a much more determined approach to reporting the specific outcomes. We had a six-month progress report and a 12-month progress report which set out clearly the undertakings of the forum and how close we had come to achieving those. They have been met in very large part at this stage. There has been a commitment to reporting and a commitment to co-ordination across Government. The high level interdepartmental group chaired by Mr. Martin Fraser, which meets regularly, has made a big difference to the way different expertise is brought to bear on the forum this year. It has become a very important factor in preparing for the forum.
Another trend has been gradually passing some ownership on to members of the network themselves. That is where the advisory group of the Global Irish Network, chaired by the Tánaiste, is important. The most recent meeting of that group took place in February and was very much a preparatory meeting to consider the themes for this year's forum. That is a way to bring in ideas from forum members themselves. I do not doubt that the follow-up after October this year will be somewhat different. However, we are learning as we go and are very frank about that. I believe it has improved steadily over time.
I was asked how we identify the next generation of people such as Don Keough. That operates on several levels. I believe the network itself is a way of identifying the next generation of such people. Many of the most active members of the network are not the CEOs of companies but are at the next level. Surprisingly, many of them are Irish born and having left here 20 or 30 years ago, are arriving at the top of their professions in the United States, Australia, Canada and elsewhere. They are the people who have least time but are devoting most time to the forum. Culture is a very important way of connecting with that generation.
Don Keough is fifth generation Irish-American, and the fourth generation was not particularly connected with Ireland. It was something that Mr. Keough rediscovered himself. People might say that Governor O'Malley in Maryland, who is also fifth generation, is unique in that his siblings and parents have relatively little interest in Ireland. That shows the importance of culture and the importance of initiatives such as the certificate of Irish heritage, which is a way of reaching out to and engaging people in Ireland.
I ask Mr. Hackett to speak about the Farmleigh Fellowship and also about private equity funding.
Mr. Joe Hackett:
The Farmleigh Fellowship is a good example of network members taking it upon themselves to go away from the forum and take forward ideas. The people from Asia and, in particular, Singapore, who were at Farmleigh in 2009 went back to Singapore and identified a gap in expertise at a business level in Asia. They established a one-year Asian graduate business studies programme between Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and UCC. Up to 25 graduates a year now carry out a period of study in UCC and complete their study in Singapore. During that time, they are placed with companies in Asia, predominantly around Singapore. In most cases, but not exclusively, they are Irish companies doing business out there. It is working effectively and is a good example of network members bringing an idea through to completion with emigrant support programme funding. We have given them funding over the past three years.
The point about private equity is very well made. One of the topics for priority discussion this year is financial services and supporting the SME sector, and something along the lines that Senator Walsh described would certainly be discussed. After the last forum, there were various private sector initiatives to increase credit guarantees or access to credit for SMEs. They have not come to fruition yet. The Government is supportive of them. The Senator's idea of taking private equity investment in property and direct it more towards SMEs is one that will get considerable traction in October.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
Deputy Eric Byrne asked about the inclusion of the third level sector and whether this was an omission in the previous forum. A few factors prompted its inclusion this year. First, the third level education sector has become very outward focused and organised collectively in promoting itself overseas. To some extent we were responding to that. To some extent we were also responding to a message that was coming across loud and clear from members of the Global Irish Network that the future success of our economy would be dependent on the capabilities of our third level education sector and its ability to succeed internationally. That is why it has been marked as a particular area for focus this year and perhaps should have been included more prominently in the previous network. There are a number of circumstances that mark it as being timely now.
On how we might identify the future generation, the Global Irish Network is one part of the overall networking work of embassies and consulates overseas. It is a modest enough part in the scale of things. For example, the consulate in New York has been working very closely with the Ireland-US Council, with the Ireland Funds, the American Ireland fund in particular, with the Irish business organisation, Irish International Business Network, and with a range of other smaller business networks as well. The Global Irish Network is part of a much bigger picture. The embassy in London is working with 20 business related networks. Some of them are sectoral. There is a financial services network and a lawyers' network. Some of them are alumni networks and so on. Every week they either host an event or attend an event by another Irish network.
Many of the future generation of Irish business leaders and members of the Global Irish Network are in those other networks. In London alone, there are up to 10,000 Irish immigrants who are members of these other networks. It is part of a much denser web of involvement and activity and all of that gives value and supports the work that the Global Irish Network has been doing. The Gathering initiative has benefited hugely from the ability of those networks to get the message out and to help organise events themselves and to plug into their own home towns.
I thank Mr. Burgess. We have had a most interesting and wide-ranging discussion on the issues that are very important to the joint committee. We hope that action to address the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States will be taken before the end of the year. Again, I wish to echo the comments of other members on the third global economic forum this year. That is important. I think the themes that have been chosen for that are important, in particular the challenges in tackling youth unemployment.
I thank Mr. Niall Burgess, Mr. Joe Hackett and Mr. Karl Gardner for engaging in this discussion. I am aware that a previous arrangement had to be cancelled. I hope the joint committee will be kept updated on what is happening in Washington. We send good wishes to the staff of the embassy in Washington, and hope that in their work with Congressmen and Senator they will highlight the Irish diaspora.