’Tis that time of the year when a large segment of the political populous either absconds to Cheltenham or to the four corners of the globe to use the opportunity afforded by our national holiday to market Ireland to a very influential audience.
Par for the course, the very predictable critics are out complaining about the waste of money that these trips represent and the word ‘junket’ becomes very commonly used this time every year.
Such criticism is totally misdirected, in my view. Not too many countries get the opportunity to meet so many influential world leaders, and particularly the US President — whoever that might be — too often.
For a country of 4.6 million people, getting such access is truly remarkable and shows, again, just how far above its weight Ireland is able to punch.
Having such access is important for building the profile of the country abroad and for forging alliances that might prove very important as we enter increasingly uncertain waters, not least in relation to Brexit and the unhealthy level of attention that is now being paid to our corporate tax structures.
In addition, as a textbook example of a very small open economy — where trade and the forces of globalisation are so obvious and so important — having strong overseas contacts and alliances is extremely important.
This is the second St Patrick’s Day visit to Donald Trump, and not surprisingly this is the one that has attracted most attention and most criticism over the past week and, indeed, over the past year.
Some argue that Leo Varadkar should not even visit the White House, while others are suggesting that he should use the opportunity to have a go at the most powerful politician in the world.
In my view, either approach would be stupid and wrong.
The US is still the most important economic and political entity in the world, and the opportunity to get a private audience with its leader is something that many other countries could only dream about.
From an Irish perspective, the US is an incredibly important partner.
We have over 710 US companies operating in the country, employing over 180,000 workers directly, not to mention the indirect employment.
Tourism figures, this week, show that in 2017, Ireland had a record year for overseas visitors, with 9.9m setting foot on our shores. The US and Canada accounted for just over 22% of this total.
The US still represents a strong growth market.
The notion that Leo Varadkar would turn around and insult the leader of this country is risible.
In any event, I doubt that having a go at President Trump would achieve anything positive, and in fact, it appears that the best way to deal with the strange individual is to flatter him rather than criticise him.
His recent policies on trade are totally insane and there can be no winners, but I somehow doubt if a slap on the wrist from the Taoiseach would alter his approach.
The reality is, President Trump has come and will go and life will continue on.
To break the St Patrick’s Day tradition would be stupid in the extreme, as it could prove very difficult to resurrect it again under a future president.
Ireland has to remain an outward looking nation and forge as many international alliances as it possibly can.
Our approach, to date, has been extremely successful and there is no reason to believe this will change.
The Irish economy is currently in a very sweet spot, with strong growth on many different fronts, as evidenced again this week by the economic growth numbers, the tourism numbers, and particularly the labour market numbers.
The Labour Force Survey, released this week, shows that employment increased by 66,800 — or 3.1% — in the year to the final quarter of 2017, to reach 2.23 million.
We are now almost back to where we were pre-crash, but the nature of the labour market performance is much more balanced now than it was back then.
Ireland’s approach to international relations is working and our politicians overseas, this weekend, should be lauded rather than scolded.
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