/ 12 March 2007

Ireland trumpets annual party on world stage

Irish leaders will jet off around the world this week to promote the Emerald Isle ahead of this weekend’s annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations, an increasingly global excuse for a party.

Helped by the country’s ubiquitous expatriates — every city on earth seems to have at least one Irish pub — St Patrick’s Day brings the craic (having fun) to the world — and Dublin is keen to make the most of it.

To that end Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, his deputy, 11 Cabinet ministers, 15 junior ministers and the Attorney General will be dropping in on 21 countries on five continents between now and the March 17 national holiday.

President Mary McAleese will not be travelling abroad this year but will be in Dublin to review the traditional St Patrick’s Day parade through the capital, a spokesperson for her office said.

But others will fly everywhere from Washington to Buenos Aires, Beijing, Pretoria, Paris, Hanoi and Warsaw, to “maximise opportunities for showcasing Ireland as a world-class economy and tourism destination”, as a government statement puts it.

There will also be a focus on progress on the peace process in Northern Ireland, where elections were held last Wednesday ahead of a planned power-sharing government in the British-run province.

Ministers have been told this year to “highlight the global threat of climate change and the urgency of acting together to meet this challenge”, the statement says.

Ministerial jet-setting around what is known as the St Patrick’s “festival” has become a feature of the national holiday in recent years.

After centuries of emigration, an estimated 70-million people worldwide claim an Irish connection.

The government says the visits provide an opportunity to renew links with Ireland’s global diaspora and help promote trade and tourism and attract inward investment.

“St Patrick’s Day is a unique event in the global calendar. Every year on 17 March, the world’s attention turns to Ireland and all things Irish.

“This goodwill and attention offers an unrivalled opportunity to promote modern Ireland overseas and to engage directly on a variety of issues with global leaders,” the government said in a statement.

The United States is a prime focus of attention and it will get visits from Ahern, his deputy, seven Cabinet ministers and a junior minister. Eleven cities will be visited.

About 34-million people in the US claim some Irish ancestry — almost seven times the population of the island of Ireland.

The US has six places named Dublin and four named Shamrock after Ireland’s three-leafed floral emblem.

Ahern will meet President George Bush in the White House to present him with the traditional bowl of shamrock.

The meeting with Bush, members of the US administration and congressional leaders will come just before the March 26 deadline for Protestant and Catholic parties in Northern Ireland to agree on forming a power-sharing executive.

Ministers will highlight “the particular priority which the government attaches to the issue of the Irish undocumented” in the US.

Before arriving in Washington, Ahern will meet United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York.

Britain, with 800 000 Irish-born people and up to 5,9-million second- and third-generation Irish people, will also get special attention.

It is Ireland’s largest trading partner and four government ministers will travel there.

To boost what the government calls its “Asia Strategy”, this year ministers will travel to China, Japan, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. — AFP