THE visit of Queen Elizabeth II last week, followed by the arrival of President Barack Obama yesterday, shows that this country enjoys a presence that far exceeds what might be expected of a tiny country of just four million people.
Ireland figuratively punches well above its weight.
This can be largely attributed to the influence of the Irish Diaspora. Throughout the world there are many millions of people who, like President Obama, trace at least part of their ancestry to this island.
As next year is a presidential election year in the United States, it would be naive to assume that the visit is not in some way connected with the President’s bid for re-election. Presidents John F Kennedy, Richard M Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and now Barack Obama, all visited Ireland either the year before or the year in which they were to run for re-election.
Regardless, the visits emphasised the importance of what is one of this country’s major resources — Irish descendants in the United States and, indeed, Irish descendants scattered throughout the world. We need to cultivate those resources wherever possible.
The visits of the two leaders of the countries with which we have had the closest ties have come in quick succession. Although Queen Elizabeth II is largely a figurehead as head of state, and Barack Obama is head of state and head of government, it should not be forgotten that British Prime Minister David Cameron also came here during the Queen’s visit.
The outside interest in this country has provided a morale boost at a critical time in the midst of our current economic difficulties. We can celebrate our ties with America, Britain and the EU as a whole, but we need to take advantage of the huge potential in developing further ties with the developing economies.
The visits in the past week have in a way emphasised that our interests as an island nation lie on both sides of the Atlantic. There are those who would argue that our best interests are not being served by our membership of the EU, and that perhaps we would be better served if we went our own way in demanding full control over our own interests rates, corporate tax rates, export and import tariffs, and the likes.
There is little doubt, however, that Ireland has enjoyed enormous American investment in the form of factories because — being based in this country — affords them easy access to European markets. Our 12.5% corporate tax rate is another major factor. We serve as a gateway to Europe.
If we wish to be successful in developing further, we must also develop our economic ties with growing economies of countries like China, India, and Brazil.
To open new opportunities, it is necessary to develop our educational system with innovative measures such as student exchanges. This would expand language skills and help to take advantage of the huge potential of the growing economies of those countries.
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