Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence Debate – Consular Service: Motion

Consular Service: Motion

Senator Mark Daly: I move:

In respect of the recent review of consular and honorary consular services and the importance that appointments are based on reliable information, this committee:

agrees that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Secretary General of the Department and the Head of the Consular section come before the committee regarding the method in which consuls and honorary consuls are appointed;

is concerned over the lack of data available regarding the location of the Irish community living overseas including their specific location;

and calls for members to be supplied with up to date information to ensure the service is fit for purpose and in locations where the Irish community are living.

This motion calls on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the head of the consular system within the Department to come before this committee prior to the publication of the review of consular and honorary consular services. I am concerned about the lack of data because any policy should be based on data. We should be given information about the service so that we can ensure it is fit for purpose.

As members will be aware, we have asked for information on where Irish people are living around the world. We know there are 70 million people in the Irish diaspora, including 40 million in the US and 6 million in Canada. Those headline figures are reported over and over again. This committee wrote to the consular service to ask for data on where the Irish diaspora is located. When I say we want information, I do not mean we should be told there are 6 million people of Irish descent in Canada.  I mean how many are in each province, for example how many people in Montana are of Irish descent? I understand and this probably has not changed, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not have the breakdown of the figures. How can one establish honorary consulates unless one has the data? Government policy is based on data, for example the number of schools and classrooms is based on the number of pupils in the area. I do not think it is acceptable that the Government does not know the states where people of Irish descent live in the United States. I could tell the committee that in Alabama’s first district of the US Congress that 12.3% of people have Irish ancestry, that is 85,045 in Alabama have Irish ancestry. If one goes to Montana, which is served by the consulate in San Francisco and what cover 13 states and a representative may get to Montana once every three years.

The message we are sending to our communities in the United States is that we like them around St. Patrick’s Day, but outside of that we are not going to give them any resources.

Let us compare what we are doing in America to what we did in Canada, the then ambassador, Dr. Ray Bassett, who was there until recently, appointed honorary consulates to virtually every province. We have more honorary consulates in Canada, where there are only 6 million people of Irish heritage compared to the United States where we have 40 million people of Irish descent. This is the result of an ambassador taking an initiative.

I know there are concerns about it. I maintain that policy is based on data. It is shocking that the reply from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to this committee after numerous requests, is that they simply do not have the data. If one went on the census website for England, one would be able to get data on the number of people with Irish ancestry in Birmingham.

If the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is to have a consulate policy, for a start the Department must have the data.

I would like to hear the views of the committee members on this. I think the reply from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is unacceptable.

 I mean how many are in each province, for example how many people in Montana are of Irish descent? I understand and this probably has not changed, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not have the breakdown of the figures. How can one establish honorary consulates unless one has the data? Government policy is based on data, for example the number of schools and classrooms is based on the number of pupils in the area. I do not think it is acceptable that the Government does not know the states where people of Irish descent live in the United States. I could tell the committee that in Alabama’s first district of the US Congress that 12.3% of people have Irish ancestry, that is 85,045 in Alabama have Irish ancestry. If one goes to Montana, which is served by the consulate in San Francisco and what cover 13 states and a representative may get to Montana once every three years.

The message we are sending to our communities in the United States is that we like them around St. Patrick’s Day, but outside of that we are not going to give them any resources.

Let us compare what we are doing in America to what we did in Canada, the then ambassador, Dr. Ray Bassett, who was there until recently, appointed honorary consulates to virtually every province. We have more honorary consulates in Canada, where there are only 6 million people of Irish heritage compared to the United States where we have 40 million people of Irish descent. This is the result of an ambassador taking an initiative.

I know there are concerns about it. I maintain that policy is based on data. It is shocking that the reply from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to this committee after numerous requests, is that they simply do not have the data. If one went on the census website for England, one would be able to get data on the number of people with Irish ancestry in Birmingham.

If the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is to have a consulate policy, for a start the Department must have the data.

I would like to hear the views of the committee members on this. I think the reply from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is unacceptable.

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