Ministers' St Patrick's Day travels showcase country
SOME may criticise the fact that most of the Cabinet flees Ireland for our national holiday, but business leaders hail the annual ministerial exodus as hugely valuable for the economy.
This year, 19 ministers will jet off to 21 countries to take part in over 150 business events and 30 high-level political meetings.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny will take part in the traditional White House meeting and hold talks with a raft of highly influential figures in the Washington political scene.
Destinations this year include traditional US locations and European destinations, as well as new additions Indonesia and the Philippines. Oddly absent is Africa. Ireland has a strong embassy presence in the continent focusing heavily on development aid.
Irish Exporters Association chief executive John Whelan said the African market is moving rapidly. "We have doubled our export sales there over the last three years. It really is on the move," he told the Irish Independent.
"We have such a strong embassy structure right across Africa mainly geared to aid and that has been fabulous, but we want to get them to equally press the trade agenda."
In the past, the costs of the trips have been scrutinised, and on this occasion the Government was at pains to point out that ministers and their officials will stay in embassies where possible. Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin will do this while in Singapore.
So is it all worth it? "It's probably the single most valuable platform for us to promote a business and the business benefits of dealing through Ireland to international markets," Mr Whelan said. "Most of the time trying to get attention in other foreign markets can be quite a difficulty."
The American Ireland Chamber of Commerce said it provided a unique opportunity to showcase Ireland as a business opportunity. Joanne Richardson, chief executive, said: "The positive impact these trips have in securing new investment and new jobs for Ireland cannot be over- stated. It is a proud tradition that has been mutually beneficial to both countries.
"Today there are over 700 US businesses in Ireland employing over 115,000 people here, while Irish companies in the US employ a similar amount. All opportunities to grow this positive relationship further are always welcomed." #
But it's not all rosy.
The Irish Exporters said that despite the work that is being done, not enough emphasis is being placed on business.
And it claimed that while embassies make huge efforts preparing for the ministerial visits, the Government takes too long to announce who's going where.
"The big issue that we have had traditionally is that they (the Government) need to announce the venues where they'll be holding specific ministerial-led events in the market well in advance so that the business community can advise their clients that they're coming up," Mr Whelan said.
"We could make a lot more of it from a business point of view. Yes it's important to get the cultural message across, but there's no point in just doing that if we don't put the business message out, particularly in the current climate."