Kenny’s seven hours of face time with Obama invaluable

St Patrick’s Day could offer a chance to listen to Irish communities abroad and learn from them

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with US president Barack Obama on St Patrick’s Day 2012.  The annual chorus of outrage about the St Patrick’s Day ministerial exodus has been more muted than usual this year but that hasn’t stopped the Government adopting its traditional, defensive posture. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with US president Barack Obama on St Patrick’s Day 2012. The annual chorus of outrage about the St Patrick’s Day ministerial exodus has been more muted than usual this year but that hasn’t stopped the Government adopting its traditional, defensive posture. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sun, Mar 9, 2014, 00:01

If precedent is anything to go by, next Friday’s St Patrick’s Day Speaker’s lunch on Capitol Hill should be a convivial affair, as the Taoiseach chews the fat – or the corned beef and cabbage – with congressional leaders from both parties. The revelation in this newspaper yesterday that Apple’s Irish subsidiary paid just $36 million in tax on $7.1 billion profits between 2004 and 2008 should ensure they have enough to talk about.

Indeed, Ireland’s generous tax regime for the multinational digital behemoths could be a conversational ice-breaker for many of our Ministers abroad next week, from Eamon Gilmore in France to Simon Coveney in Australia, where the latest information on Apple’s tax stratagems emerged.

Chorus of outrage
The annual chorus of outrage about the St Patrick’s Day ministerial exodus has been more muted than usual this year but that hasn’t stopped the Government adopting its traditional, defensive posture.

“Now that we have exited the EU-IMF bailout and made a successful return to the bond markets, it is more important than ever that we leverage the opportunity presented by the St Patrick’s Day period to further boost trade, tourism and inward-investment with a view to creating more jobs at home,” Gilmore said as he named the destinations for 28 Ministers last month.

The Tánaiste’s justification is valid, as far as it goes, and there is no doubt, for example, turning landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids of Giza green for the day is a boost for Ireland’s visibility. But the real benefit of the Ministers’ presence at St Patrick’s Day events lies in their usefulness in cultivating long-term relationships with Irish communities and political leaders around the world.

The value of these enduring political relationships is most obvious in Washington, where Ireland’s access to powerful figures in the administration and in Congress has helped to engage the United States in Northern Ireland and to secure immigration rights for some Irish citizens over the years.

More recently, as tax competition has climbed the agenda, Ireland’s friends on Capitol Hill have helped to ensure that this country stays off the lists of tax havens that surface every few years.

Personal relationships
Such indulgence is not automatic and it may not be available in the future, as the digital element of the economy takes a greater share of the whole. But strong personal relationships with legislators, assiduously cultivated over years by Irish diplomats and their allies in the US capital, will ensure at least that Ireland’s arguments are heard.

President Barack Obama will be at his charming best on Friday for the shamrock ceremony and reception at the White House and the Irish will be made to feel welcome on our special day. But the president is unlikely to name a new ambassador to Ireland, although it is already 15 months since Dan Rooney returned to the US.

The delay is viewed on the wilder fringes of Irish America as a calculated snub – or at least an ostentatious expression of indifference towards Ireland.

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