Irish Diaspora - Definition

Definition

The term Irish diaspora is open to many interpretations. One, preferred by the government of Ireland, is defined in legal terms: the Irish diaspora are all persons of Irish nationality who habitually reside outside of the island of Ireland. This includes Irish citizens who have emigrated abroad and their children, who are Irish citizens by descent under Irish law. It also includes their grandchildren in cases where they were registered as Irish citizens in the Foreign Births Register held in every Irish diplomatic mission. (Great-grandchildren and even more distant descendants of Irish immigrants may also register as Irish citizens, but only if the parent through whom they claim descent was registered as a citizen before the descendant in question was born.) Under this legal definition, the Irish diaspora is considerably smaller—some 3 million persons, of whom 1.2 million are Irish-born emigrants. This is still a large ratio for any country.

However, the usage of Irish diaspora is generally not limited by citizenship status, thus leading to an estimated (and fluctuating) membership of up to 80 million persons—the second and more emotive definition. The Irish Government acknowledged this interpretation—although it did not acknowledge any legal obligations to persons in this larger diaspora—when Article 2 of the Constitution of Ireland was amended in 1998 to read "urthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage."

The right to register as an Irish citizen terminates at the third generation (except as noted above). This contrasts with citizenship law in Italy, Israel, Japan and other countries which make no legal reference to cherishing special affinities with their diasporas but which nonetheless permit legal avenues through which members of the diaspora can register as citizens.

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