Government Ministers will highlight the success of multinational firms in Ireland and the oppotunity to be part of the State's economic recovery story while on an overseas trade offensive for St Patrick's Day, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said.
Today, Mr Gilmore kicks off his official engagements in Paris, Taoiseach Enda Kenny begins his visit to the US and 26 other Government members are visiting outposts old and new such as Scotland, Russia, Vietnam and New Zealand to mark the national holiday.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Gilmore said the destinations were selected in consultation with embassies and consulates as well as agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, with a focus on "maximising where the biggest impact is going to be".
The thinking appears to be that the biggest inroads can be made in North America given that six Ministers, Mr Kenny and Attorney General Márie Whelan are travelling to the US, while Minister for Finance Michael Noonan is going to Canada.
"North America features widely in the programme and the main reason is that they do St Patrick's Day in a big and public kind of way," Mr Gilmore said, adding that the US was the source of 80 per cent of Irish foreign direct investment.
The St Patrick’s Day ministerial travel programme has long been maligned as a holiday for participants but the Government says it is now about communicating a message of recovery and capitalising on chances to meet people interested in trading or investing in Ireland.
“It’s going to be all about doing business in Ireland, investing in Ireland, creating jobs in Ireland and being part of Ireland’s recovery story,” he said. “It’s about communicating a very positive modern message of a country on its way back.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the total cost of St Patrick’s Day travel was just over €233,000 last year, including accommodation, transport and gifts but that it would cost €10 million to buy the global media coverage Ireland gets over the St Patrick’s Day period.
The programme comes after a challenging year for Irish goods exports, with a fall-off in chemical and pharmaceutical sales, largely due to big-name drugs coming off patent, accounting for €4.6 billion of a €4.8 billion decline in the total to €86.9 billion.
Trade declined with 14 of the State’s 27 priority trade markets largely as a consequence of reduced chemical/pharma sales. Ministers will be visiting 15 of these priority markets over the holiday period.
The decline in trade was not unexpected and the Department of Enterprise noted that exporting firms added 12,000 jobs last year. However, given chemical/pharma exports – at €50.5 billion – accounted for more than 57 per cent of total goods exports last year it is problematic. Mr Noonan recently warned that the “patent cliff” in the pharmaceutical sector could affect Ireland’s growth figures for this year.
Chris Van Egeraat, a lecturer in economic geography at NUI Maynooth, said employment was a better measure of the economy than exports or GDP. Employment remained steady at about 30,000 in the chemical sector despite recent issues, but declining sales would likely hit corporation tax receipts.
Dr Van Egeraat also said there had been some job losses last year in chemical companies but these reflected wider issues such as restructuring rather than the impact of specific drugs coming off patent.
Most firms in the sector run multiproduct plants meaning the expiry of individual patents is not overly significant on their staff needs, he added.
Chemicals aside, CSO figures show goods exports declined in five of the other nine categories last year, including beverages and tobacco, miscellaneous manufactured articles and fuels, with food and livestock and machinery among those growing.
A Department of Enterprise spokesman said – the pharma/chemical sector aside – goods exports showed “a remarkably robust performance” last year and figures for December, up 18 per cent on the previous year, were encouraging.
He also said services exports – which cover financial transactions, aviation leasing and the activity of online firms such as Google or Facebook – grew by 4 per cent to €69 billion in the nine months to September and looked set to eclipse goods exports in the full year.