Fermanagh District Council has become a member of NI Connections, an initiative that seeks to strengthen links with the diaspora in order to “create networks, identify opportunities, build partnerships and reap the benefits of a shared heritage.” Membership costs £6,000 per year and the Council has agreed to join for one year. The decision was made at April’s full Council meeting.

At a policy and resources meeting on March 10, members heard from Economic Development officer Anne Quinn who stated that benefits of membership will include “making connections for various sectors including education, tourism, and in particular, the economy, with foreign and direct investment being crucial for the success of the economy.” She added that Tourism Ireland assists in the organisation of annual NI Connections events and, if the Council joined, Fermanagh would be promoted at the events.

“The purpose of NI Connections is to make connections with people who have left Northern Ireland. It’s got a strong membership and its Board includes Invest Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Queen’s University and the University of Ulster.” Its other members are: Belfast Harbour, Belfast City Council, Ards Borough Council, Ballymena Borough Council, Derry City Council, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast Metropolitan College,Visit Belfast, British Council, Belfast George Best City Airport, Titanic Quarter, Odyssey Trust, and the Northern Ireland Science Park.

“NI Connections work on the back of Invest NI overseas trade shows,” Mrs. Quinn explains. “It’s an opportunity for the diaspora to get together and to maintain a connection to home.” She adds that “it remains to be seen what form it will take”, adding: “I don’t imagine there will be wins for a long time.” Barry McBride, Executive Director of International Business at Invest NI praised the move, saying: “When we stumble across long-long alumni who are now successful in business, those people would usually like to help businesses locally in Fermanagh. It’s a really good thing for the Council to be involved in that. A lot of us in Northern Ireland tend to be inwardly focused but there’s a whole big world out there. I think this is a good move by the Council to keep their eyes open and look outward aswell.” Brian Lambkin, Director of the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies based in the Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh believes that: “Potential investors in the diaspora are more likely to be attracted if they see evidence of Northern Ireland doing something positive to cherish its diaspora.” He comments: “Ideally, the relationship between homeland and diaspora should be one of two-way investment.” Creative industries is a developing and lucrative sector and one which the South West College hopes to develop locally through its state-of-the-art Image Creative Technologies Studio. There, local students are learning 3D animation, digital composting, app development, motion capture and video game development.

One of Fermanagh’s diaspora is Enniskillen-born film maker Nial Fulton, who lives in Australia.

Asked how he would feel if he was contacted by Fermanagh District Council, seeking investment in the form of shooting a film here or supporting the local creative industry sector, Nial replies: “I would be delighted to discuss potential investment with Fermanagh District Council if the right project came along.” He has several Irish projects underway at the moment and would “relish the opportunity to do something ambitious in Fermanagh.” Nial points to co-production treaties in place across the UK, Ireland and Australia that enable producers to operate more efficiently in each territory. “I’m endlessly surprised at the bizarre places we end up making films in and almost all of them are far more remote, with less services and infrastructure than Fermanagh.” He concludes: “Any initiative that helps build a sustainable, vibrant creative industry in Fermanagh, will always get my vote.”