1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach further to the reply from the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to Parliamentary Question No. 21 of 25 January 2018, the status of the proposal to double Ireland’s global footprint by 2025. (Question 19091/18 asked on 09 May 2018)
The Taoiseach: Plans to double Ireland’s global footprint by 2025 are advancing. As I have previously stated, that does not necessarily mean a doubling of agencies, embassies, staff or budget – though we are and will be expanding these where appropriate. It means taking the steps necessary to double our impact around the world. The exercise will enhance Ireland’s visibility globally, extending our international influence. It will position us for trade and investment growth in new and existing markets. This is especially important as the UK leaves the European Union.
It will also benefit our citizens when travelling or living abroad and will support deeper engagement with our diaspora, including through new and creative platforms.
It will help showcase our culture to the world, and better communicate the benefits of living, working and studying in Ireland.
The Government has already taken a number of important steps to deliver this goal, including through the decision to open new embassies in Chile, Colombia, Jordan and New Zealand, as well as consulates general in Vancouver and Mumbai.
In support of a strategic approach to deepening engagement with Germany, the Tánaiste recently published a review entitled “Ireland in Germany: A Wider and Deeper Footprint”, making important recommendations, including opening a new consulate in Frankfurt, the financial capital of the eurozone.
In addition, during my visit to the United States for the St. Patrick’s Day period, I indicated our intention to expand and reinforce our footprint there, including through advancing our economic and other interests on the west coast. I also announced Global Ireland, an initiative to help us communicate in a more coherent, compelling and streamlined way to an international audience. The Government has also provided additional resources to our enterprise agencies, including to enhance the support they offer to Irish businesses impacted by Brexit. Work on the initiative, which involves all relevant Departments and agencies with an international presence or dimension to their work, is continuing and I expect that the Government will announce further steps towards its delivery in the coming weeks.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Having seen close at hand the work of our diplomats and international agencies, I have always supported the significant extension of our international reach and, indeed, during more straitened times, managed to do so as Minister for Foreign Affairs. When we open new embassies and representative offices, there is a direct and continuous benefit to Ireland and our people. What is missing in the plan to increase our international reach is a strategic approach to achieving this. We must have focused priorities and be clear in setting out what we are trying to achieve. Previous expansions in China and Asia, in particular during the late 1990s when we developed the first Asia strategy, have borne much fruit. I recall as a former Minister with responsibility for enterprise putting pressure on a reluctant IDA to set up an office in China as we have to put roots down and may not get a return for a significant period afterwards. Those expansions were accompanied by cross-governmental strategies which set out specific targets and ongoing objectives from agriculture to industry as well as political objectives.
Immediately after the Brexit referendum, we were promised a detailed study of its staffing implications for the Civil Service and public service generally. What is the status of this study? Given the fact that there must be a training and development period before new recruits can operate at a high level, the obvious question is whether current recruitment is at a high enough level to fill the positions being created in time to deal with Brexit. What specific international models is the Government seeking to follow? Is it a case of expanding what we do or is there an intention to try new models, for example the way Scandinavian states frequently share facilities to reduce the cost of consular activities and support services? Has an assessment been undertaken on staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of the Taoiseach who are now required to work on Brexit? Have staff numbers already been increased and is the Taoiseach satisfied that the expertise required is available? Are there plans to increase staff in the Brexit area in the near future?
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The Taoiseach announced the global Ireland 2025 plan in Toronto last August and said at the time that it would be published by the end of 2017. That did not happen. The Tánaiste then said in January that it would be launched over the course of the St. Patrick’s Day events in the USA. That did not happen either. Nobody here will argue with the intended outcomes, which we are told are to attract greater investment to Ireland, build tourism and trade, build stronger links with the diaspora and increase cultural exchange. Those are all very good aims which Sinn Féin supports. An increased diplomatic presence around the world will no doubt increase the likelihood of delivering on those very goals. Does the Taoiseach now have a definitive timeframe in mind to put the details of the plan in place and for its rolling-out? What additional supports will agencies like the IDA and Fáilte Ireland receive? These are particularly important and appropriate in the context of Brexit. When will the planned new embassies in Chile, Colombia, Jordan and New Zealand be up and running?
Deputy Brendan Howlin: We need a strategic view of what doubling Ireland’s global footprint by 2025 actually means. Is it specifically looking at regions we need to invest in, beefing up existing embassies and-or establishing the embassies which have been announced? As Deputy McDonald said, the Taoiseach announced new embassies for Wellington in New Zealand, Santiago in Chile, Bogota in Colombia and Oman in Jordan, none of which has actually opened yet. When is it envisaged that they will open? The Taoiseach has indicated that a new consulate general will open in Frankfurt and that our footprint on the west coast of the USA will be increased. In the latter stages of the previous Government, of which we were both members, we increased our footprint in Asia. Looking at China, we opened a consulate general in Hong Kong to supplement the consulate already established in Shanghai and the embassy in Beijing. We also opened a new embassy in Jakarta and a consulate in Austin, Texas.
Strategically, what is the Taoiseach’s intention? It would be interesting to have a view on that. Is it the general view that new and existing embassies should migrate to the “Ireland House” structure where Bord Bia, the IDA and other bespoke Irish agencies are housed in a single centre?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: President Donald Trump is very dangerously banging the drums of war against Iran, supported enthusiastically by Saudi Arabia, a nasty little dictatorship, and Israel.
Deputy Brendan Howlin: A big dictatorship.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: A big dictatorship, and Israel. He is seeking to isolate Iran, impose sanctions and escalate a dangerous conflict in the Middle East. Many countries which are signatories of the nuclear deal with Iran are, rightly, rejecting what President Trump is saying and contending that the deal should be maintained. It is important in this context for Ireland to nail its colours to the mast on this. One way of doing so would be to restore an Irish embassy to Iran. There have been calls to do so independently of the current situation by the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association and the Iranians are very keen on it also. They have even offered to provide the building in Tehran. All they want is diplomats to be sent over. Iran has very many questions to answer about its policies in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, but we have embassies with many questionable regimes, including, for example, the Saudis and Israel, which has refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty while Iran has. It is important, as this conflict is being escalated by Trump, that we send a message that we are not engaging in a confrontation with Iran. Reestablishing an Irish embassy in Tehran would be one way to do so and it would also have economic benefits for this country.
The Taoiseach: The intention is to do exactly what Deputy Martin advocates, namely put in place a strategic plan approved by the Government. Our new target is to publish it before the summer recess. The idea behind this is to expand our embassy and agency presence around the world according to a plan rather than in the ad hoc way it has happened in more recent years. Draft versions of the document exist but I am not entirely happy with them. I am happy with what has been put forward by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the different agencies, but the existing draft is a bit weak when it comes to the permanent representation. We will have to increase our presence in Brussels to a considerable extent in the absence of the support and alliance of the UK there. We will be the only common law country in the EU and will have to build up new alliances. As such, we will have to increase the permanent representation. We will also have to look at the UK itself. When it is outside the EU, we will need to find new ways to maintain the bilateral relationship. The possibility exists of opening consulates in regional cities. For example, we may reopen the consulate in Cardiff.
Having read the draft, it occurred to me that it was not strong enough on areas like culture, education and connectivity. Our culture, arts, dance, music and literature are often the window through which a lot of people see Ireland for the first time, in particular in Asia and Africa. It is an area which needs to be strengthened. We can also be more ambitious around international education to encourage more international students to study here. There is also an opportunity to build on the success we have had to date on connectivity. Only a couple of years ago, there were no direct flights to the west coast of the USA whereas we now have flights to Seattle, San Francisco and LA. Direct flights to two cities in China will also commence this summer. The draft is strong on embassies and agencies but, as already noted, perhaps it is not strong enough in the context of the other aspects relating to expanding our global footprint, namely, culture, education and connectivity. However, I believe we will get there over the next couple of weeks.
A staff census of the different agencies and Departments is done as part of the document. In terms of the models we have been examining, we have been looking at other small countries such as Denmark, which is a similar size to ours but which has many more suits and boots on the ground for what it does through its diplomats and agencies. Interestingly, Denmark is paring that back whereas we are going in the other direction and expanding. We have not planned to share with other countries. I had not even thought of that but it is not part of the plan at present.
It is intended to have more Ireland House establishments but that depends on where they should be. For example, one of the potential locations for a new Ireland House would be Tokyo in Japan. However, that would not make sense in countries such as Germany where the political capital is Berlin but where the economic activity is in Frankfurt. It does not make sense to put an Ireland House in Berlin. Similarly, in Australia, the political capital is Canberra but the business, tourism and other markets are in Sydney and Melbourne. It makes sense in some countries but not in others.
On Brexit, I am satisfied that we have adequate staff in the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs and Trade and across the various agencies. However, we must keep a watching brief on that because, as matters develop, we might need to respond to Brexit in different ways.
The new embassies in Chile, New Zealand, Jordan and Colombia and the consulates in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Mumbai will all open either this year or next year. We are also going to upgrade the existing office in Liberia to embassy status and expanding in Austin from one person to two. All of this is under way. In Chile, an ambassador-designate has already been appointed.
Doubling our global footprint means doubling our impact. It is done through a combination of measures and does not mean necessarily doubling offices, budgets and staff. It means doubling our impact by a combination of increases in staff, budgets and offices and things such as education and culture.
The Government supports the Iran nuclear agreement. We believe it has helped to stabilise that region and has slowed down, if not stopped, Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme. We are aligned with our EU allies, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in their support for the agreement. The Trump Administration has made a policy mistake in resiling from the agreement. I expect we will discuss it next week in Bulgaria at the informal meeting of EU Heads of State and Government. The Tehran embassy is under consideration again. We had an embassy there for a long time but it was one of the embassies shut during the financial crisis. As it is an expanding economy with a big population and it is an expanding regional power it is definitely on the list for consideration for an embassy in the future.