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Ministerial-led trade missions around St Patrick’s Day pay major dividends for Irish business


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Ireland’s legendary soft diplomatic efforts help to strengthen the Irish economy and achieve significant political influence.

That impact is magnified in March as a direct result of the ministerial-led trade missions to every corner of the globe. During the past week, Brand Ireland has punched above its weight, dominating media and business events, with rare access to world political and corporate leaders. Both the State and businesses make a significant investment of time and money, and every year that investment pays back handsomely.

It is easy to cynically dismiss the hype and superficial nature of some of the photo opportunities, that these trips are glorified junkets for the participants, a perception that it’s just a few days away from work to relax, eat and drink.

The reality is very different. For Ireland’s most successful exporting businesses, St Patrick’s Day offers extraordinary possibilities for new customer engagement, building and strengthening relationships, establishing profitable partnerships and accessing new routes to market.

For political leaders and public servants, it offers almost limitless opportunities to engage in policy discussion and influence counterparts in foreign governments. Through an extraordinarily intense schedule of meetings and functions, Irish participants on these trips from both the public and private sector strive to achieve their goals for the week.

Last week, ministerial-led missions travelled to 47 countries (and 19 states in the US). The Enterprise Ireland team participated in many of these agendas, hosting hundreds of client companies as they pursued export growth and made international investments. Such export activity is a vitally important part of Ireland’s success, as a small open economy.

Our international trading indigenous companies exported more than €32 billion in 2022 growing 19 per cent to a record high, with good export growth in sectors such as food, technology/services and life sciences.

These Irish-owned companies employ more than 225,000 people across the country, with two thirds of those jobs outside Dublin.

Beyond exporting, the overseas presence of some of Ireland’s strongest businesses has been enhanced through international acquisitions and establishing business operations, a proven powerful way to scale.

Ireland now ranks at ninth on the list of countries involved in foreign direct investment into the US, employing 100,000 people in 650 Irish-owned businesses. Helping these Irish companies to scale and go global is a core priority for Enterprise Ireland.

For all of these businesses, the opportunity to network at events hosted by Ministers and ambassadors during March offers unique potential for new connections and driving export growth.

As chairman of the board of Enterprise Ireland, I visited our office in Austin, Texas, last week and participated in the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference along with 19 Enterprise Ireland client companies, who shared a platform to present their business under the banner of Ireland House, led by Minister Catherine Martin.

SXSW is one of the largest global gatherings of creative and technology sectors, and Ireland’s presence comprised the Department of Foreign Affairs (through its new consulate in Austin), Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Tourism Ireland, Screen Ireland, Music from Ireland and others.

It offered an immense opportunity for Enterprise Ireland to showcase some trailblazing client companies who are redefining the future of mobility, work, technology and the commercial creative sector – from the Giant Company, who are merging artistry and cutting-edge technology to deliver the world’s tallest moving statue, to Manna, who are undertaking the world’s largest drone delivery trial, and Imvizar, the “Netflix for AR”, who launched the world’s first no-code augmented reality storytelling platform.

Ireland hosted numerous events and panel discussions at SXSW, bringing together the Irish firms with current and potential US partners. The energy and ambition of the leaders of these businesses is infectious and inspiring, their potential for growth seems almost limitless. The opportunity to take advantage of a coincidence of dates is a good example of Ireland using its national day to make a real impact on a world stage in March, hosting St Patrick’s Day events to provide a unique opportunity for these exciting Irish entrepreneurial businesses to realise their ambitions.

In the second half of the week, I participated in an intense schedule of meetings and events in Washington, DC, as part of the Taoiseach-led trade and diplomatic mission. The days were packed with Enterprise Ireland-hosted meetings between clients and their US partners and customers, workshops on sustainability and innovation, client press announcements of news of investments and commercial deals by Irish companies including ClonBio and Hanley Energy.

The delegation participated at a number of events addressed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as he celebrated the unique economic and diplomatic partnership between Ireland and the US, memorable joint speeches by Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers, and impactful sessions hosted by the powerful American Chamber of Commerce.

It is a great and enduring investment, with clear and substantial payback. Ireland’s economy is strengthening through its export growth, with businesses becoming more financially sustainable by broadening their export footprint. International investment leads to wealth creation and higher tax revenues, with more and better job opportunities.

Such economic progress is essential if Ireland is to invest further in its health and other social services. The contribution made to Irish society by successful businesses is immense and, with appropriate State engagement and support, these companies can further enhance that contribution.

St Patrick Day offers Ireland a significant return on this investment, the numerous events that took place last week in the US and around the world will pay back many times over in the years ahead.

Michael Carey is chairman of Enterprise Ireland

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