‘Team Ireland’ is a small club playing in the big leagues

Taoiseach’s plan to double Ireland’s ‘global footprint’ is an ambitious one

Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Montreal, Canada. Photograph:   Reuters/ Christinne Muschi

Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Montreal, Canada. Photograph: Reuters/ Christinne Muschi

 

The pledge by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to double Ireland’s “global footprint”, was first made by him during the Fine Gael leadership campaign.

Mr Varadkar’s promise to greatly enlarge Ireland’s diplomatic and overseas presence, made during a speech in Toronto yesterday, was included in a policy ideas paper published by Mr Varadkar during the Fine Gael contest in May.

Mr Varadkar’s then rival Simon Coveney, now the Minister for Foreign Affairs, has been charged with producing a plan for a greatly enlarged global presence by 2025.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said that there were no costings or further information about what the Taoiseach called “Ireland’s Global Footprint 2025” available. Formal Government approval for the plan would be discussed later in the year, he said.

The Taoiseach’s plan to double Ireland’s presence abroad over the next seven years is an ambitious one, and will no doubt be welcomed enthusiastically by the Department of Foreign Affairs, though perhaps less by other departments which compete with the DFA for funding.

‘Team Ireland’

Ireland’s diplomatic strength has grown significantly in recent decades, but is considerably smaller than other comparable countries. For a country with such a significant international presence and which trades so openly with the rest of the world, what Mr Varadkar called “Team Ireland” is a small club playing in the big leagues.

Though Varadkar mentioned state agencies such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Tourism Ireland, most overseas activity centres around Ireland’s embassy network.

There are now 80 Irish missions abroad, an increase from just 40 in 1980. However, Denmark has 105, Sweden 104 similar missions; the Netherlands has 141.

Ireland maintains diplomatic relations with 178 countries, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. The 80 missions are mostly full embassies (61), with the balance made up of consulates general (12), multilateral missions and other offices.

Brexit

Many embassies are tiny operations, with the majority (42) operating with just one or two diplomats assigned from Dublin, supported by local staff.

There are just 311 Irish diplomats currently serving abroad; by contrast, over the summer the Passport Office (also part of the Department of Foreign Affairs) employs almost 550 people. Diplomats typically are posted abroad for three or four years before returning home to headquarters for a similar period, and then going abroad again. The department employs just over 1,500 permanent staff.

DFA headquarters in Iveagh House in Dublin says that most missions – some 50 of the total number – cost less than €1 million a year to run, while the eight largest have annual costs of more than €2 million. These include the embassies in London, Brussels and Paris which have been allocated new staff since the Brexit vote.