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Downsizing St Patrick's Day visits was a good gimmick

IRELAND'S exports have remained resilient, despite the recession, and the figures have held up. For the past 24 months they have been climbing month on month in exports.

Frank Ryan, the chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, never tires of making this point and his equivalent in the IDA, Barry O'Leary, points out that this year was their best year in the past four years when it comes to inward investment.


Despite the national feeling of despair, the outside world continues to sink investment here and buy our export products and services.

All agree that export-led growth and more inward investment is our way out of recession and that the productive side of our economy is performing relatively well. In this light the decision by the new Taoiseach Enda Kenny to bring the trade function into the Department of Foreign Affairs is a good one.

This will allow Foreign Affairs to become a more business-focused ministry, as well as to continue with its work of diplomacy and promoting Ireland overseas.

Over the years as a minister I tried to convince both Brian Cowen and a succession of Iveagh House mandarins that this was the way to go.


The fact that Eamon Gilmore is Tanaiste will give real clout to this effort and has appointed the talented and very diplomatic Jan O'Sullivan from Limerick to the important work of Trade Promotion and Overseas Aid.

The Irish Aid Ministry was my first job in Government and, to be honest, it was better than being in the Cabinet. Now that trade has been added to the portfolio, it will be even better for Jan O'Sullivan.

The other plus to the combination of Trade and Aid is that it will shift the emphasis away from the charity or handout model that so often sets back the cause of those who believe passionately in development aid.

Africa, as a continent, has recorded big growth rates in recent years and over time can become a serious trading partner for Ireland too.

The announcement of the new Minister of State team has also featured other interesting appointments, including Michael Ring of Mayo, Dublin's Brian Hayes and the Cork Labour deputy Sean Sherlock.

Sherlock is one of the new talents in the Dail.

Brian Hayes, my former constituency colleague, deserved his chance and Enda Kenny's decision not to punish him for his role in the attempted heave against him reflects well on both men.

The decision to appoint a minister with responsibility for small business is the right signal and John Perry from Sligo has soldiered on the relevant Dail committees but, more importantly, is a small businessman himself.

Michael Ring, too often underestimated because of his populist rhetoric, will be no slouch either and may even surprise a few in the role he is given.

He has the decisive personality to be a good minister.

The decision to downsize the St Patrick's Day visits was a good PR gimmick by the new Government but, hopefully, they will think better of it next year and identify more locations around the world to promote investment, tourism and exports.

Despite media cynicism on the St Patrick's Day visits, it is a great opportunity to promote the country.

Conor Lenihan is a former Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation. He served for 14 years as a Dail Deputy