By Michael Godfrey
WITH the bombs falling on Ukraine and people fleeing for their lives, it seems a bit trivial to talk about St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, but unfortunately there will always be a war somewhere in the world and people will die because of man’s inhumanity to man.
But it is a very important week for the Irish diaspora. Our citizens or those claiming Irish ancestry are scattered throughout the world. Drop a pin on a landmass anywhere in the world and you’re sure to come across someone claiming to have an Irish connection.
This incredible opportunity to showcase the country globally once a year has served us well in the past. Famous buildings turn ‘green’ for a day and even some rivers have green dye applied to highlight the Irish connection. More importantly, however, it is a time when our government is using its sense of Irish to send ministers on serious business to all parts of the world. Working with various government agencies, their job is to ‘sell’ Ireland as a good place to invest.
In the general scheme of things, Ireland is very small. In fact, in some countries there are “small” towns where more Irish people live than the total population of the 26 counties. Yet, due to the fascination with Ireland and all things Irish, the doors of political leaders are open for this day of the year.
This year, the charm offensive, which had been quiet since the pandemic, is well and truly back, with 30 ministers and their masters heading to the four corners of the globe.
Last weekend Taoiseach Micheál Martin chatted odds and ends with the British Prime Minister before watching the rugby match – which we won – after which he showed his support for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which again took place in London over the weekend. Later this week, he will be in the United States to deliver the traditional bowl of clover to President Biden, meet people who could be very important economically for this country and remind the more than 50 million American citizens who claim to have an Irish ancestry that the Emerald Isle is a great place to visit.
This opportunity to “sell” Ireland is unique. We are the only ethnic group in America that has the right to march on 5th Avenue on a working day. Any other group wishing to celebrate their national day can only do so on a Sunday.
The day is estimated to be worth more than $50 million to New York City, with more than a million people lining the streets to witness the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world.
All of this helps sell Ireland. And thanks to this sense of Irish identity, the foreign direct investment generated attracts great value and our food and drink exports now exceed €13.5 billion a year. Before the pandemic, tourism was very important to the national economy and, like our food and beverage exports, it had increased by more than 50% in the previous ten years.
Even though inflation is skyrocketing the cost of living right now, we wouldn’t be able to mitigate some of this upward spiral without the success we’ve had over the years, thanks in part to the opportunities generated by the desire of people to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day all over the world.
More importantly, we would not be able to provide the kind of services that will give refugees from Ukraine the comfort they deserve. While these refugees will cost the state hundreds of millions of euros – an insignificant cost compared to the suffering of the Ukrainian people – this money has to be found somewhere.
According to an estimate given to the government, each tranche of 1,000 Ukrainian refugees who will be accommodated in a hotel will cost 33 million euros per year. As the war rages on, we could eventually accommodate up to 100,000 refugees – and any services these people will need will have to be paid for.
So if you’re feeling a little guilty supporting the ‘Green Army’ all over the world on March 17, remember that raising awareness of Ireland can lead to the generation of much-needed investment, which will ultimately enable Ireland to continue to play an important role in supporting refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere in the world.