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Dublin: 16°C Friday 17 September 2021

Ministers sell Ireland around Paddy's Day to secure jobs. Why the begrudgery?

It may sound kitsch to bring folks along to a green themed breakfast or lunch engagement, but it works, writes Aaron McKenna.

Aaron McKenna

IT’S NEARING MARCH 17, and under the Media Regularity Regulations Act I’m obliged to inform you that all but one of our government ministers are “jetting off” (as distinct from, for example, swimming) to the far flung corners of the earth on junkets that will cost the taxpayer more than €10,000 a head.

In the event of a sudden crisis at the parade on Tuesday, or if the others are eaten by the locals or stricken by gout on their trips, Michael Noonan will be remaining behind to mind the country.

One tabloid reliably informs me that last year the ministers almost travelled far enough, collectively, to reach the moon. No word on a return leg or the precise distance travelled this year, though the Sundays still have time to compile that vital information.

Condemning costly trips

Local politicians have, in accordance with the regulations, been issuing condemnations of the costly trips; using the opportunity to highlight constituency issues that could be solved using the very same money if only government wasn’t such a heartless, vacuous creature.

€300,000 pays for a lot of tarmac and astroturf, don’t you know.

When government officials wander past an airport, it almost qualifies as a junket these days. People work themselves up into a rage about ministers enjoying the perks of global travel, especially during a time of hardship at home. Air miles, hotel stays and bills to the taxpayer get most of the focus.

What’s less considered is that Ireland is one of if not the only small country in the world – with a population equal to 0.065% of the globe in case we forget – that has an excuse each and every year to go and talk to political and business leaders on this scale.

Our ministerial delegations will be visiting 15 of the G20 countries that make up the largest economies in the world, and every one of the top G8 countries.

Green themed breakfasts 

It may sound kitsch to bring folks along to a green themed breakfast or lunch engagement, but it works. I’ve seen trade missions in action, where a minister or the President is wheeled out to take pictures, give a speech and sit at the top table with some influential business leaders; and it really does leave an impression on those involved.

Building relationships is how we attract investment to this country. The IDA spends plenty of money to bring business leaders out for boozy dinners, drive them around in chauffeured mercs and make sure they get their picture taken with someone important.

These relationships matter in persuading someone – because it is people who make decisions in businesses – to choose to invest in Ireland versus one of our competitor FDI countries. You can talk tax breaks and educated workforces all day long, but so too an investor has to feel that there is a personal connection and a business relationship that will cut through any problems that may arise in future.

You build that relationship one breakfast, one photo, one meeting at a time.

The Taoiseach has kicked off his trip this year with a breakfast meeting in Atlanta. That city is a tech hub in the US that has already sent us several investments, with plenty more potentially in the pipeline.

Cover of Time magazine 

Business leaders our IDA and embassy offices will have identified already the people they wanted to go in, get their picture taken with a guy they know from the cover of Time Magazine rather than any water meter controversy you or I might have shading our view of him; and then after a good speech and some back slapping, they will have broken off into sidebar meetings with senior officials who will sell them on investing in Ireland.

We have an excuse to do this each and every year, in pretty much whatever countries we like. Our national holiday is a global phenomenon and we are shamelessly using it to our advantage. That’s incredible. It is also far more cost effective than flying each of the hundreds, if not thousands, of influential potential investors over to Ireland on a junket of their own.

The IDA has a five year strategy to 2019 to bring in 80,000 new FDI jobs to Ireland, a 40% increase on current levels.

Instead of begrudging ministerial trips around Paddy’s Day, we might wish them some success in helping make that happen.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman on columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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