Qatari investors to weigh up opportunities here
QATAR will send a mission to Ireland over the next three months to assess a range of potential investment opportunities here.
The mission from the booming, natural gas-rich Gulf state will be led by the Qatari Investment Authority -- a state agency charged with managing a staggering $100bn (€75bn) investment fund.
It already owns stakes in businesses such as banking giant Credit Suisse and Heathrow Airport.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny met with the chairman of the fund yesterday as it prepares to bring a group to Ireland.
"The Qatari Investment Authority will lead a high-level delegation to Ireland to look at a range of opportunities," the Taoiseach said.
But he warned that Irish institutions would need to be ready for the mission.
"We've got some work to do in Ireland to meet the range of what is in demand from the Qatari Investment Authority. This is a global investment authority and that delegation is expected to arrive in Ireland before the end of March," he said.
Despite its small size and low population, Qatar is emerging as a major financial force thanks to its status as the world's top producer of natural gas.
On their agenda will be potential investments in infrastructure, and in Irish bonds -- but only if the country's debt rating is lifted, according to the Taoiseach.
The group will also look at potential investments in financial packages to provide access to credit for Irish SMEs.
The Taoiseach and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton held a series of meetings with Qatar's political and business leaders during a whistlestop tour.
They met Qatar's Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalif al Thani and senior government officials, as well as the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank.
The Taoiseach also met the chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar al Baker, yesterday.
The state-owned airline has previously been tipped as a potential buyer for Aer Lingus -- where the Irish Government owns a 25pc stake. However, Mr Kenny told reporters that there was no discussion yesterday about potential sales of state assets.
Instead, the talks with Qatar Airways focused on the possibility of opening new direct flights between Dublin and Doha, the Qatari capital.
With the world's biggest natural gas output and a population of two million -- 90pc of them foreigners who arrived in recent decades -- Qatar is experiencing a huge real-estate and investment boom.
Doha's skyline is made up of hundreds of dramatic, newly built skyscrapers in every conceivable shape; the building boom makes it a magnet for Irish construction services firms and professionals.
That includes Sepam, a specialist engineering firm whose office in Doha was opened yesterday by the Taoiseach. The Irish firm has contracts to kit out the city's new, state-of-the-art airport.
Doha is the second leg of Ireland's four-country trade mission to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which includes Qatar.
The Irish delegation flew on to Abu Dhabi last night.