For Ireland, a drive to tap into the pockets of its diaspora turned out to be mission impossible.
The government said in Dublin this week that it’s scrapping a certificate of heritage, the state’s imprimatur on the recipient’s Irish roots, amid slow sales. Not even awarding certificates to actor Tom Cruise and President Barack Obama inspired much business.
“It’s a very good concept,” Jimmy Deenihan, an Irish junior minister with responsibility for “diaspora affairs,” said in an interview on RTE Radio on Tuesday. “But certainly the take-up was lower than expected.”
The government has sold about 3,000 of the certificates, which was “considerably less than anticipated,” the Foreign Affairs ministry said. The project’s scrapping is a rare reversal for a nation that has long traded on the emotions of Americans in search of their heritage. Tourism accounts for more than 4 percent of the Irish economy, with about one in six trips coming from North America, and proved a bright spot as the country emerged from its worst recession on record.
The government believes there are about 70 million people around the world of Irish ancestry and has targeted “diaspora-related tourism.”
The concept of official heritage certificates emerged from a forum of Irish executives working overseas, who gathered in Dublin during the financial crash to figure out ways to drag the country out of its recession.
The program was supposed to represent the “enduring emotional ties and sense of identity” that comes with Irish ancestry and was a “must-have for anyone with Irish roots,” according to a website promoting the certificate.
The heritage-seeker could pay 120 euros ($133) for a framed certificate set against a backdrop of an emigrant ship leaving Ireland. An unframed certificate cost 45 euros.
Cruise received his in 2014 when the government confirmed he was a descendant of Patrick Russell-Cruise, who was born in Dublin in 1799. Other recipients included George O’Leary, football coach at the University of Central Florida and Charlene Wittstock, Princess of Monaco.
About half of the certificates were sold in the U.S., with Australia the second-biggest market. One was sold in Albania, according to the Foreign Affairs ministry.
The government will continue to make “special presentations” of Irish heritage and is reviewing how “people want to express their Irishness,” he said.
Deenihan awarded a certificate to Andrew O’Brien, one of Secretary of State John Kerry’s top officials, whose grandmother was from Kerry in the southwest of the country. The minister also awarded certificates to a number of U.S. senators and representatives, he said.
“They had them displayed in their offices,” Deenihan said. “People are very proud of their connection.”