Ireland is to establish a new diplomatic office for the Caribbean in Miami, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar on Thursday opened a new Irish consulate in Miami which will serve Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The Taoiseach said Ireland had taken the decision to expand its diplomatic presence around the world and Florida was the third biggest state in the United States.
In Miami, the Taoiseach met Florida secretary of state Cord Byrd and mayor of Miami Francis Suarez, who recently dropped out of the contest to secure the Republican Party nomination for the presidency.
The Department of Foreign Affairs launched a strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean last year with a view to enhancing connections with the region in terms of trade, culture and education.
An office for Central America was opened as part of the embassy in Mexico in January and it is envisaged that the office for the Caribbean will be adjacent to the new consulate in Miami.
Mr Varadkar also toured the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum in Miami, which will, in the weeks ahead, launch an exhibition on the Celtic revival in Ireland at the end of the 19th and early 20th century.
A centre piece of the exhibit will be the Harry Clarke Geneva window. Mr Varadkar described it as the jewel in the museum’s collection.
“In a sense the window, as well as being an exquisite work of art and an important historical artefact, tells a story of continuity and change in Ireland over the last century,” the Taoiseach said.
The window was initially commissioned by the Irish Free State in the 1920s to be exhibited at the Irish office of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva.
However, the then-president of the executive council, WT Cosgrave, later rejected the finished piece on the grounds that its portrayal of sexual innuendo and drunkenness would be offensive. The window depicts scenes from Irish literature, including a partially-clothed dancer.
Mr Varadkar said that Ireland’s relationship with Florida was significant.
“Our bilateral trade was worth an estimated $5.8 billion in 2022. Ireland is the eighth largest foreign investor in Florida, with Irish companies located throughout the State employing at least 14,400 people.
“There are at least 22 Florida-owned companies operating 70 subsidiaries in Ireland.”
Speaking in Miami to journalists about the forthcoming inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 in Ireland, Mr Varadkar said that the Government had got most of the decisions right.
However he said, in retrospect, some wrong calls were made.
“We were slow, for example, to adopt masks and antigen tests,” said the Taoiseach.
“I was always at the view that the school closures, particularly special school closures, went on too long. And as people will know, I had my doubts as to whether the final lockdown, the Omicron lockdown, was warranted or not. "
“But I really want to emphasise this point. Collectively, the Governmen,t NPHET and HSE, we made the right calls the vast majority of the time. And that’s reflected in the fact that we had very low mortality, morbidity, rates, relative to other countries.
. “We bounced back so quickly and protected businesses and livelihoods in a way that very few other countries did. So there’s a tendency often sometimes in Ireland to focus on the few things you may have got wrong, or the number of things you may have got wrong, rather than the bigger picture, which actually was a very good response by Ireland, and that’s recognised around the world.”