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Ireland's Ambassador to the US says 'cool heads and trust in science' is needed to combat coronavirus

The ambassador was addressing Irish and American businesses in Washington DC today.

Leo Varadkar with Irish ambassador to the US Dan Mulhall
Leo Varadkar with Irish ambassador to the US Dan Mulhall
Image: Niall Carson

Christina Finn reporting from Washington DC

IRELAND’S AMBASSADOR TO the US has warned that panic will not aid the fight against the coronavirus.

Speaking at the Team Ireland lunch in Washington DC today, he said combating the coronavirus “requires cools head, trust in science… sound, evidence-based policy and international co-operation”.

He told a room full of Irish and American business people that the coronavirus is something to fear, but said there shouldn’t be panic. He quoted US President Roosevelt: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Mulhall said Ireland being an open economy is vital to its prosperity.

“And while the coronavirus response will enforce short-term restrictions. We’re committed to keeping our doors open,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was due to attend the event this afternoon, however due to his St Patrick’s Day trip being curtailed this week, his first engagement will be this evening at the Ireland Funds Gala.

The event takes place against the backdrop of the spread of the virus worldwide, with Ireland’s first death associated with the virus confirmed today.

Tourism Ireland’s Niall Gibbons said the situation is “very serious”. 

The US situation is being assessed on a daily basis, he said, stating that some airlines reducing its fleet to mainland Europe by 20% will have an impact.

“These are really serious decisions being made,” he said.

He said small and medium enterprises have seen a “dramatic fall” in demand. Tourism Ireland has a “recovery plan” ready to go, said Gibbons, but he said now is obviously not the time to roll that out.

“I don’t think it is appropriate to be out in the market right now with a message of ‘come to Ireland’ in your face. We have scaled back all our paid marketing activity for the foreseeable future,” he said.

“I have been through every crises the industry has thrown at me over the last 18 years – what is different about this one is the public fear aspect to it, which is preventing people from flying,” said Gibbons, who added that people are also afraid about being quarantined in another country.

‘We will emerge from this’

“We will emerge from this, tourism will come back, people will travel again, but I think it is the uncertainty, he said.

Mulhall said that while the coronavirus response will enforce short-term restrictions, Ireland is “committed to keeping our doors open”.

“One of the most notable features of our recent general election was the complete absence of support for any party that was hostile to immigration There is simply no purchase in the public space for anti-immigrant sentiments or anti-European Union sentiments, which you find in other parts.

He said the 100,000 welcomes “is more than a traditional greeting. It’s a national creed”.

“Whatever else may change in the months and years ahead. I am confident that our open welcoming attitude will endure,” he said.

Contingency planning 

With businesses grappling to deal with the contingency planning, Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon said agency’s Brexit planning has proven very useful in the context of the coronavirus.

“It’s about planning and have a continuity plan for your business,” she said today.

She added that one of the biggest hits that companies have dealt with so far is the impact on their supply chains. 

CEO of the IDA Martin Shanahan said they have observed a slow down in investment, stating that decisions are being stalled as business focus on contingency planning and the restrictions with travel.

“It is still evolving, on a daily-basis we are engaging with companies,” he said, adding that working at home is not a possibility for all companies, such as manufacturing plants.

He said it was too soon to tell what the monetary impact on the Irish economy will be, stating that his sense is that investment decisions have been postponed or delayed, but not lost.

“That isn’t to say that the level of global investments… won’t be impacted by this, I mean I think it’s highly likely at this point that we’re going to see global growth impacted,” he said.

Prof. Mark Ferguson from Science Foundation Ireland was also at today’s event in Washington DC. 

He said the science of working on a vaccine for coronavirus is moving a lot faster than with Ebola, stating that there has never been more international collaboration to address a virus crisis,with countries like China, the United States and Europe all sharing information.

“The coronavirus is no match for international science, the real question is when.”

During his speech, Mulhall also took aim at US President Donald Trump’s tariffs imposed on EU goods, including Irish goods.

“The Irish butter on your bread, the Irish cream liquor you’ll enjoy later now costs more,” he said.

“But we’re prepared to bear the extra cost. It hurts our consumers and our stocks, we hope that current talks between our EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan will negotiate a resolution,” he said.

TheJournal.ie’s Political Correspondent Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Leo Varadkar’s visit to Washington DC this week, including his meeting with US President Donald Trump tomorrow.

Stay up-to-date by following @christinafinn8@TJ_Politics  and TheJournal.ie’s Facebook page

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