Challenges ahead as we make it our business to rebuild brand Ireland
MOST nations can only dream of having a national holiday celebrated in almost every city across the world. Cities from Bejing to Brisbane and Boston to Berlin will come to a standstill today to cheer our national feast day.
Everything from rivers to beer will be dyed green in honour of our national saint.
Ireland is still a brand that is almost without parallel among the world's smaller nations but it needs burnishing after the bruising recession that did so much to destroy our reputation as a serious player.
That was the reason for Ireland Day at the New York Stock Exchange earlier this week, where IDA chief executive Barry O'Leary gave a flavour of the challenges he faced in trying to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to Ireland now.
"There is no doubt about it; Ireland's reputation has taken a knock and this is something we've had to address in an upfront way," he said.
"The banking bailout, the budget deficit and the EU tax pressures are all affecting FDI.
"But companies coming to Ireland don't come to supply the domestic market. By and large they serve the international markets. 2010 was one of our best years ever for FDI. Of the 120 new investments that Ireland backed -- 47 of them were from companies that had no previous experience of operating in Ireland."
While the IDA works hard to attract new and dynamic companies such as Google and Facebook, Mr O'Leary says it's just as important that the tried and trusted investors in Ireland, such as computer giants IBM and Intel, Merek and Eli Lilly continue to expand here.
Mr O'Leary was one of a number of Irish business leaders who addressed a conference of more than 300 international business people at the Ireland Day at the New York Stock Exchange earlier this week.
Also addressing the event was businessman Denis O'Brien, who pleaded with the audience to remember that "Ireland was not broken".
"Yes we have a situation where there are parts of the system that need to be fixed. But they are just a small part of this.
"If you look at Ireland today it is business as usual but the usual has changed because we are now forced to look outside of Ireland and create new markets for outstanding indigenous companies," he said.
"We also have a new Government and no matter what political persuasion you are we must support the Government."
Mr O'Brien was keen to stress that Ireland's arts and culture industry was a sector often overlooked and one that would contribute greatly to improving Ireland's image both at home and abroad.
IFSC czar and former Taoiseach John Bruton believes the current crisis is simply forcing us to do certain "re-engineering of our state" that would have to have been done anyway.
"We needed to slim down of public sector, reform our health care system and reduce our fiscal deficit.
"This crisis has ultimately forced us to do what we would have had to do anyway -- it just made us do it earlier."
Despite this optimism, he still believes that the country will have to go through a long period of austerity to get back on track.
"But we are a very productive economy and our people are our best assets. The Irish people are well able to take on whatever intimidating challenges lie ahead in order for us to regain our economic independence.
"The Irish people have proven themselves in the past to be up to the challenge and we will do it again," he said.
Smurfit Kappa chief executive Gary McGann said Ireland Inc's image was very negative at the moment but pointed to what he called a world-class offering as a business base due to our infrastructure and people, who he said are driven, dynamic and well educated.
"We have been here before and we got out of it. The capacity of Irish businesses to find funding is much better now than at any time during the 1980s.
"We are in a much better place," he said. "We must use business as a catalyst for the future. The only saviour for Ireland is through business.
"We have to let people know that Ireland is not just a building site with a national anthem."
While the mood in New York was optimistic and there was definitely a case of putting the best foot forward, concerns abound, with the uncertainty surrounding the funding of our banking sector among the biggest worries.
Irish Stock Exchange boss Deirdre Somers was one of those heartened by the optimism among US financial institutes but she admitted that she remains concerned about the upcoming banking stress tests. "If the stress tests reveal that the banks are in a worse condition that we thought then that is a concern," she said.
Seems there are still a few snakes in the system that no modern-day successor to St Patrick will be able to banish.