Irish diplomatic corps ‘in expansion mode again’, Coveney says

Minister for Foreign Affairs pledges no funding impediments to Brexit preparations

 Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said Ireland’s diplomatic corps is “in expansion mode again” with five new missions due to open around the world.

There will be embassies in Santiago, Chile; Bogota, Colombia and Amman, Jordan and consulates in Vancouver, Canada and Mumbai, India.

“As part of the Brexit response and extending our international footprint, for the first time in many, many years we are actually going to be opening quite a few new embassies in the next 12 months,” he said.

Mr Coveney said there were nearly 700 million people in South America and the Carribean, and Ireland only had three embassies in the entire region, “so we are correcting that”.

He said countries that already had advantageous trade relationships already in place with the European Union had been targeted.

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Mr Coveney said Ireland was behaving strategically in the Middle East, “for the first time we’re going to be expanding our diplomatic footprint in the Arab world”.

Turning to Canada, he said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s relationship with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was very good and there were thousands of young Irish people in Canada.

He said Ireland was “beefing up” its presence in India, while work would begin next year on a “state-of-the-art Ireland House” in Tokoyo, Japan.

‘Starting a journey’

Speaking at a media briefing in Government Buildings after the budget was announced, Mr Coveney said Government was “starting a journey” to achieving the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNP on overseas development aid.

“We’ve essentially stopped the fall,” he said. “If there’s one thing I want to do in this job it’s I want to get us back on the road to where we promised we would be which is to try to get to a point where Ireland is credibly approaching achieving this figure of 0.7 per cent GNP.”

Mr Coveney said he would like to get close to that figure by 2030. He described the current Irish Aid programme as “fantastic”, but said a new scheme would be designed to dramatically increase expenditure overtime.

Mr Coveney corrected a figure presented by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe in his budget speech. “The €13 million figure that he announced is the Irish Aid increase...but the ODA figure is actually increasing by €26 million.”

On Brexit, Mr Coveney said there would be no funding impediments to preparing his Department for the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU.

He said he did not accept Ireland would lose out in the race to host the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, but said the State would have to make a strategic decision about which one to go after.

He said the “world is watching” the ongoing Brexit negotiations. He said he understood very good progress had been made on Tuesday on the issue of the common travel area, which should not be taken for granted.