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Can the Irish save Ireland?

Ireland turns to its diaspora for help overcoming economic disaster.

For some countries, Ireland is a role model in how to exploit its diaspora, with network groups established in several countries and significant financial backing from the government. But the Irish are now looking to other countries like Israel and India for ways to do better. A study of their strategies has been carried out by the Worldwide Ireland Funds, a global non-profit fundraising network.

“Governments around the world are beginning to think about engaging their overseas populations in innovative ways,” said co-author Kingsley Aikins, president and CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Funds.

His survey found that in addition to more than 34 million Irish Americans registered in the 2000 census (not including 5 million who claimed to be Scots Irish), there are also 3.8 million Irish Canadians, 1.9 million Irish Australians, 500 Irish Argentines, and millions more of Irish heritage in Britain and other European countries. Although the Irish population constitutes just 1 percent of the total population of the European Community, when looked at through the lens of the diaspora Ireland is in fact a highly globalized country with more than 70 million members.

This “diverse, globalized and highly valuable network” should be leveraged for the benefit of its members, said Aikins.

Economist David McWilliams, the instigator of the forum, concluded in a similar vein, that “the homeland can be strengthened by the tribe.”

McWilliams, a returned emigrant in his early 40s, made the point that his generation did not want to be “the first Irish people who have had to emigrate twice in their working lifetime.”

The great migrations of the last two centuries — which created Ireland’s diaspora — ended with the prosperity of the Celtic Tiger years, and from 1991 to 2006 there was an influx of 350,000 migrants, more than half of them returnees.

However the latest population figures reveal that the number of emigrants increased in the year ending in April to 65,000, while the number of immigrants fell to 57,000. One problem Ireland doesn't have, however, is a declining population — the country grew by almost 1 percent in the same period, due to the highest birth rate in over a century, and the population now stands at 4.46 million.