Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade Debate – Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Senator Mark Daly: I am sure the witnesses are aware from their own experience of many of the issues. One of the issues, particularly for businesses in San Francisco, is direct flights. I know this issue is back on the agenda. We wrote to the Minister, but the response was not entirely encouraging. Some 40% of our foreign direct investment comes from San Francisco, but there is a problem with regard to flights between Ireland and San Francisco. It is like having to send people to Paris from here in order to get them to England. This is trying and wearing and we are losing opportunities because of it. Have IBEC or the Irish Exporters Association had any engagement with the Government on this. I believe the issue was raised at its last meeting.
I would like to return to the point I was making about direct flights, an issue on which the Dublin Airport Authority and some of the multinationals are working. However, Government authorities should be driving it. They need to assist to bring us over the line. They can buy seats on an airline just as anybody else can, although the European Unon might have issues with this. This is the most important air route we could have. I am sure it is a matter of concern for everyone present that we should have it but do not.
The issue of consulates which has been mentioned also came up in San Francisco. Given that there are 40,000 Irish passport holders in the Bay Area, it is clear that the consulate in San Francisco pays for itself. Irish people, apparently, lose more passports than people of other nationalities. The way we are organising our consulate service is not acceptable, as we are losing great people in San Francisco. Nearly everybody who becomes the deputy gets a very good job in the Bay Area. We have come across some great honorary consuls. It is ridiculous to expect the consulate in San Francisco to cover an area almost the size of western Europe. One cannot have the job done in such circumstances. There are honorary consuls in San Diego and at other locations. We have pointed out that huge costs are not associated with honorary consuls. It is a touchstone. If the representatives of an Irish company were arriving in Denver, for example, there should be somebody there to deal with them. Other countries do these things. We do not, even though it would not cost very much.
We have our report on the global economic forum. I am sure the delegates were present at the most recent forum. Many concerns have been expressed about the third forum. I have highlighted the issue at the committee. Many said at the second forum that not much had happened after the first. It was suggested very busy people who had been willing to give of their time to the project – time is money for such persons – would not continue to do so if results were not being seen by the time the third forum was held. The emigrant investor programme was mentioned as an example of what had been achieved in the meantime. It will be of concern to IBEC’s members to learn that one application under the programme which was announced at the start of the year has been processed. I understand a further three applications are in the pipeline. That is poor, by any standard. It should be a no-brainer. It should be churning out stuff. I am using this to indicate what we will have to mention as an example of what we have achieved in two years when we are inviting people to attend the third global economic forum. If this achievement rate is anything to go by, we will not have a third forum. It will be said we are not achieving. I would like to get the delegates’ views on the global economic forum. It is a great idea, but we are not putting enough human resources into bringing all of the initiatives to fruition.