St Patrick’s Day 2015: we salute the Irish diaspora

A day that provides a priceless opportunity for Ireland to engage with the world

 

St Patrick’s Day is an opportunity for Ireland to look outwards to the world, and to share a national celebration on a larger stage in what has now become a major international event. The illumination - or greening - of so many iconic sites and landmark buildings, including the London Eye, Niagara Falls, and the Sydney Opera House, serves as a reminder of Ireland’s greatly enhanced presence and influence in so many parts of the globe.

Whether those abroad who are participating in today’s celebrations are new emigrants, or settled expatriates, or of Irish descent, all have become Ireland’s informal ambassadors on this day - the Irish diaspora who represent the country to the world.

St Patrick’s Day abroad is many things.

At a social and cultural level, it provides a moment to renew friendships and to enjoy what Ireland has to offer in the arts. It also presents an opportunity to catch the world’s attention, and to engage with it on some of Ireland’s other attractions: whether that be tourism - by raising awareness of Ireland’s appeal to visitors; or trade promotion - by selling Ireland as a location for foreign direct investment.

Each year the large number of Ministers who embark on the St Patrick’s week trade mission has often - wrongly and unfairly - been criticised. This marketing exercise has been castigated by some as a waste of taxpayer’s money, and dismissed by others as a mid- term political junket.

This year 29 Ministers will briefly circle the globe - at minimal financial cost, and with every likelihood the benefits that do accrue to the State - in increased visitor numbers or greater foreign investment - will far exceed that cost, estimated at €300,000. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, has remarked: “No other country has an opportunity like St Patrick’s Day”, and many governments and businesses are envious of the access that this occasion allows.

Perhaps the best illustration of that unique facility is the traditional, and now annual, shamrock ceremony in the White House, where Taoiseach, Enda Kenny will meet President Barack Obama.

It is a chance to tap the huge goodwill that exists in the US for Ireland, a country that John F Kennedy so memorably described on his visit here in 1963, as one of those “five feet high nations who set a standard for other small nations to follow”. Much has since changed.

Today in a globalised world of open borders, with free movement of people and capital, the Irish diaspora, estimated at 70 million who claim Irish descent, has helped to raise Ireland’s profile in the world, and has also increasingly become a great source of pride to Irish people at home. The challenge, as the Government has recognised, lies in developing that relationship further so that its potential can be fully realised.

We stand in solidarity with our diaspora this St Patrick’s Day, and affirm they are part of the essential core of Irishness.

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