Embassy shake-up targets emerging export markets
The Government is opening new embassies and consulates in south-east Asia, South America and the US to tap the potential of emerging export markets.
The diplomatic service is undergoing a process of change, including a focus on economic diplomacy and trade, Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore has said.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Gilmore said Ireland's diplomatic offering was small compared with similar-sized countries.
"It's been my view for some time that we needed to extend our footprint, particularly to underpin our trade work, to support the agencies that are working in countries abroad, looking at where the gaps are," he said.
"You have to work on your international relations. This is a competitive business, being out there trying to open up markets for companies, trying to attract investment, trying to build on your reputation. This is all competitive."
New embassies are being opened in Jakarta in Indonesia; Bangkok in Thailand; Zagreb in Croatia; and Nairobi in Kenya. Smaller consulates will be established in Hong Kong, Sao Paulo and Austin in Texas.
The Irish embassy to the Holy See is also being reopened.
The overall move will cost €4.7m a year, but Mr Gilmore said it would be done using existing resources.
However, Ireland's embassy to Lesotho will be closed, with Ireland's embassy in South Africa assuming responsibility for the Kingdom of Lesotho. The Irish embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, will also be downsized.
An Irish Aid office in Freetown, Sierra Leone, will be upgraded to embassy status.
Mr Gilmore said Indonesia was a rapidly growing economy, while Thailand had a growing middle class and changing consumer profile.
Sao Paulo is the biggest financial centre in South America and Ireland has been under-represented on that continent, the Tanaiste said.
Hong Kong was a "key financial business hub" providing access for Irish businesses to southern China.
Austin in Texas has been chosen because of its relationship with technology industries. Mr Gilmore said there had been a need to broaden the State's footprint in the US.
"It is a process of change that is about a renewed focus on economic diplomacy, on trade, on reputation building and on promoting Irish values which are very important. That's why we do aid and we're so strong on issues of poverty and human rights," he said.
Mr Gilmore also said the department had been looking at how the opportunities built by the country's aid efforts in Africa could be translated into trade potential.
"We have an Africa strategy which is about underpinning our aid programme in Africa, but it is also about moving from aid to trade," Mr Gilmore said.
"Kenya is a country that fits that. It is also a gateway for the rest of East Africa."
The new embassies and consulates will be small in size, ranging from one to three diplomatic staff.