Diplomatic corps ‘essential’ to restoring economic recovery

Dáil told need for trade and investment should not be at expense of human rights

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore talks to the media after his meeting with French president Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris earlier this month. Photograph: EPA/Yoan Valat

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore talks to the media after his meeting with French president Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris earlier this month. Photograph: EPA/Yoan Valat

Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 20:59

Ireland’s diplomatic corps has been an “essential part” of efforts to restore the State’s international reputation and economic recovery, the Dáil has heard.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the scale of the embassy network’s efforts was notable. Last year it supported 136 high level visits, “with a significant economic or promotional dimension across 52 countries”.

Embassies also undertook more than 730 engagements to facilitate trade and investment supporting Irish jobs as well as more than 660 “specific engagements to promote Ireland’s economic position to officeholders worldwide”. Their speeches and public presentations were made directly to audiences of more than 778,000 around the world, he said.

Ambassadors and embassy staff also dealt with more than 1,150 members of the international media last year, to promote Ireland’s profile and global reputation.

Mr Gilmore said that resulted in key messages on Ireland’s economic recovery and strengths as a location for foreign investment reached “at a very conservative estimate”, more than 53 million people.

The Tánaiste was speaking during a debate on a report by the Oireachtas committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on the department’s contribution to economic recovery.

Chairman of the committee Pat Breen said the department’s “vigorous and competent attention to Ireland’s interests and responsibilities...cannot easily be separated from the promotion of economic interests abroad”.

But he said “at present it is more important than ever that the department and embassy network are focused on Ireland’s trade, investment and tourism interests”.

But Sinn Féin’s Sean Crowe pointed to the report’s statement that Ireland’s focus on the increased need for trade “should not come at the expense of our longstanding contribution to international peace, security and human rights”.

Mr Crowe said he was on the trade mission to Iran.

“We were able to easily and openly discuss trade issues alongside human rights and other important concerns. This begs the question of why the Taoiseach was unable to do likewise in Saudi Arabia, which is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.”

Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith called for further discussion on the division of responsibility for trade between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

He said he could not understand why responsibility for the World Trade Organisation negotiations did not rest with Foreign Affairs and Trade and he questioned why Richard Bruton’s department dealt with the EU Trade Council.

“Responsibility for trade should rest with one Minister to the greatest extent possible.”