Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Thursday 19th April 2012
Senator Mark Daly: I welcome the Minister to the committee. I am glad that when he went to Canada, they did not bring up the fact that some remnants of the Fenians invaded them back in the 1860s. They have left that grudge behind them. Comments were made in the Seanad this year by Members on all sides about media stories on where all the politicians were going and claims that this was a disgrace and a waste of money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any country would be absolutely delighted to have the opportunity that St. Patrick’s Day provides to Ireland. We always say that we punch above our weight, but when we look at it, trying to harness the 70 million strong diaspora around the world is very difficult. They have a bond to us, but it is about trying to mobilise them in a coherent way. The Global Irish Economic Forum is a great step and a positive initiative. It takes many elements from the best examples of what the Indians and the Israelis have done.
A number of people at the forum said that we have to make sure that there are tangible results this time. Many of them were wondering if we have gone anywhere since Farmleigh. There was huge political and economic turmoil in Ireland over those few years, and people were wondering if they would come the next time. That is not to denigrate it, but we have to up our game. In terms of the microfinancing example from the Israelis and so on, I suggest that on the anniversary of the forum, we come back here and find out how many loans were actually given and get feedback from the 130 people we appointed following the forum.
I had a meeting with an ambassador of a First World country this morning. If that country’s citizens want to reapply to stay here, we send them back and tell them they can apply next year. They have to stay away for a year and come back. These are not poor people who could be a burden on the State. They could contribute to the country, but our visa system does not work to facilitate some great countries that would be of great benefit to Ireland. We should outline to those people, who used their time and money to come to the forum, how many loans we gave out under our loan guarantee scheme. I am sure the Department will publish a report 12 months after the forum, and I hope it shows that this is what happened. I see that the communications unit issued press releases at Christmas and around the time of the budget and again in February. Do the people who receive those feel that they are effective? We read one in four of our e-mails, so why should they read that particular e-mail? What is in it that will make them open it and read it?
If the Department cannot include everybody in the €1.2 million mentoring scheme, I suggest that committee members and members of the forum come together and explain how it worked. We should be able to do that in 12 months.
The film and television industry was also mentioned in the forum, which is a free advertisement for Ireland. When it is on somebody’s television screen, they will see the scenery and come and visit. Is our tax scheme working against that at the moment? Somebody in the Australian tourist board came up with the idea of televising an Oprah Winfrey show next to the Sydney Opera House, and they invited an entire audience to come to Australia and visit everything. They brought Oprah Winfrey and put her next to the Sydney Opera House. They had the backdrop and they had the weather and they invited the entire audience from an Oprah Winfrey show to come to Australia and visit everything. I will not say you could not buy it – obviously one could buy it, because it cost €10 million – but what it was worth in publicity for Australia was enormous. We should be considering initiatives such as that. We need to ensure the Global Irish Economic Forum is a sustainable and ongoing project, and we need to show the people who gave of their time and effort, who would otherwise be charging thousands by the hour, that 12 months from the day they were here last year, this is what we have achieved. We need to give facts and figures. I think it will be a success, but we cannot sit back and expect it to happen by itself. I ask the Minister to address the questions on microfinance and to ensure that all the facts and figures are provided so that not only members of the committee but also those who attended the forum can see there was a visible outcome.