Joe McHugh when he was a member of the Irish Senate, Seanad Eireann. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Ray O’Hanlon
The former main viewing point for the worldwide Irish diaspora was to be found in Kerry.
The new one is from Donegal.
Joe McHugh has been appointed the Irish government’s new minister of state with responsibility for the diaspora.
The Donegal TD’s portfolio also includes responsibility for Ireland’s overseas aid program so he will want to make sure that his passport is up to date – and biometric.
McHugh succeeds Kerry’s Jimmy Deenihan, who lost his Dáil seat in the February general election.
McHugh, a member of Fine Gael, is a former junior minister with responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources.
He was at one point a participant in the Irish Echo/Belfast Media Group Golden Bridges conference in Boston.
The diaspora portfolio was generally well received when it was held by Mr. Deenihan though issues, not least votes for the Irish overseas and representation in the Irish Senate, continue to stir debate.
Prior to the announcement of Mr. McHugh’s appointment, Sinn Féin diaspora spokesperson, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, charged in a release that the Irish diaspora had been left out of the new government’s program for government.
“The Irish Diaspora have long been neglected by successive governments, but the program adds insult to injury by omitting to even mention them. This shows a complete lack of respect for the millions of Irish living abroad and shows that they are not a priority for the incoming administration,” said Ó Clochartaigh.
“There is no mention of representation for the diaspora in our parliament, and no mention of implementing the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention in relation to a referendum on voting rights for the Irish abroad.
“The program gives no indication of increased support for the Irish abroad, or action to help the undocumented Irish either,” Ó Clochartaigh said.
And he added: “It appears that after almost two months of discussions between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the spectrum of Independents that diaspora issues didn’t even feature, or worse again - if they did, that they weren’t considered important enough for inclusion in the Program for Government. That is totally disrespectful.”